Saturday, May 25, 2013

Five Things I Learned in College

Recently, I found an old journal from the summer before my freshman year of college. (And by “found,” I mean that I’ve been doing actual archeological digs to get rid of mounds of papers, ticket stubs, old folders, and other office supply debris that have accumulated on, in, and under my desk.)

As this journal was found in one of the lower strata, it’s pretty obvious that I hadn’t read it since the day I wrote it, August of 2009. Only a few pages are filled out, and one is a list of qualities that I wanted to develop during four years at college. It is, as I put it, “a reflection of all my weaknesses and failures,” the person I wanted to be as an eighteen-year-old but knew I wasn’t yet.

Guess what? I’m still not there yet. But it’s interesting, looking back at this list, that many of the ways that God specifically intervened in my life to change me were in these areas. Here are a few of them:

I want to be someone who…

Doesn’t need the approval of others.
            Okay, fine, this one is always going to be a struggle, because I love people and want people to love me. However, during these past four years I’ve learned how to distinguish between rejecting rejection and rejecting constructive criticism. The first one is good (not investing my identity in what people think of me and letting it control my actions). The second is terrible (ignoring ways I can improve pointed out by people I respect). What people think of me still matters…but the circle of whose opinions matter is getting smaller, and most of those people love me anyway.

Learns to love God with all her heart.
            Basically, my relationship with God has always been more of a let’s-do-inductive-Bible-study-and-discuss-theology kind of relationship, which isn’t necessarily bad. Still, I’ve really enjoyed being exposed to the way other people relate to and worship God, and that’s broadened my understanding of who God is and helped me love him more on a personal level (instead of just loving knowledge about him).

Takes responsibilities and commitments seriously.
            Well, there was that exam I almost slept through. And the time my cell phone fell out of my pocket while I was making a snow angel, stayed there all night, and then got run over by a plow (it still worked!). Of course, we shouldn’t forget the Lost Semester of extreme overcommitment (17 credit hours including 3 literature classes…6 extracurricular activities…and 2 book manuscripts to finish…not the most brilliant planning I’ve ever done). But guess what? I learned from those mistakes. By my senior year, I appreciated the value in slowing down, being fully present, setting writing deadlines, and making sure that if I promised someone I’d do something that I would absolutely do it no matter what. And I even (gasp!) made a few lists near the end there.

Lives a genuine and sincere life.
            This one, I think, has a lot to do with what I’ve learned about myself. "Discovering yourself" is some mysterious process they tell you is supposed to happen when you’re at college and on your own for the first time. Except this time the cliché ended up being true. Looking back, I realize that there's no way I can be sincere in the way I interact with others if I’m either insecure or arrogant. When I can honestly assess who I am, what my gifts and weaknesses are, how I learn, what I’m afraid of, and why I do the things I do, I can relate to others in a more genuine way instead of reading off some generic script of how I think I’m supposed to treat other people.

Lets others teach her things and is open to changing her mind.
            This could possibly be the biggest way I’ve changed in college. It’s almost like one day I woke up and realized, “Hey, there are really intelligent people who disagree with me on things. Maybe I’m not always the ultimate decider of every absolute truth!” Not that I don’t have room to work on here, but I’m getting much better about being gracious when having discussions with people who don’t see things the same way I do.

It was kind of exciting to look at this list and see change, especially compared to where I started. God is doing things, and he’ll keep doing things. I think there’s a myth that you can accidentally stumble on spiritual growth, which I don’t think is usually true…but there’s also an unrealistic expectation that you should be able to knuckle down and fix all of your character flaws on your own. The middle ground between these two extremes is joining with God on the things you know you need to work on.

Which is why I need to stop writing this blog post and start another list.

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