I have learned so many important things this year. Of course I don't have as many experiences as someone who has graduated, or even someone in second or third year, but I think that God has shown me some pretty fundamental things.
I graduated grade 12 with my life figured out. I was going to major in psychology and minor in linguistics, and I was going to take only one English course, graduate in exactly 4 years (not a single day more), and spend 2 years taking my Master of Health Sciences in Speech Language Pathology at the University of Toronto (not anywhere else). Then I would be hired at either Bloorview, Sick Kids, or Grandview (a little bit of flexibility there), and somewhere in that mix I would find time to get married and live happily ever after.
When I started university this past fall, that was my mindset. My life was set in stone because that's the way I liked it. When there aren't any grey areas, everything is pretty comfortable right? So I went straight to the academic advisor and told him the exact courses I would like to take and when I would like to finish them. He kindly suggested that I allow myself some flexibility because students tend to change their minds, and I kindly responded that I really wasn't like every other student and I would most definitely not be changing my mind about anything.
God tends to shake things up when we don't have the right mindset.
It turns out I really don't like university English, and some parts of psychology aren't so great either. Health sciences are apparently my favourite thing now? And after volunteering at a specialized communication preschool I realized that speech language pathology isn't as exciting as I once thought. On top of all that, I ended up only being able to take four courses each semester so that means I'll graduate in 4.5 years instead of my personal, and very exact, 4 year deadline.
So to every university student, and anyone who likes to have control, here is what I have learned:
You don't have to have your life figured out
I really think it's hard for us to let go of control. There is comfort in holding onto life's steering wheel because then the road that we are on lines up with the map in our head. Maybe it's just me, but having things figured out in my mind makes life seem pretty safe and secure.
The problem with that way of thinking is that if we only follow the map in our head, we will never have any idea what other roads offer. We get stuck in our point of view because we think our plan is great.
But what about something greater?
Think about how God has a birds-eye-view of everything (Job 28:24). He knows what's out there. He can see exactly where you fit into the huge world (Psalm 139:16), and sometimes He might want to turn the steering wheel so you can end up in that perfectly fitting place.
Be open to a change of direction.
God doesn't see you the way you see yourself
Going into my first year (and actually just going into life in general) I was (and still sometimes am) really hard on myself. This year I was trying to maintain a scholarship with tagged-on (really high!) expectations. Being someone who already has high expectations of myself, this didn't help.
Losing 0.33% of a grade because I circled one wrong answer was not okay. Neither was getting one 'X' on a syntactic tree (even without a mark deduction) because I extended a line too far. And it was definitely not okay to lose 2 marks for forgetting to fill in one column of an online lab chart. (The fact that I still remember every detail of those mistakes shows that I am clearly a work in progress!)
In my mind, all of these things were interfering with the way everybody else was going to see me.
Does anybody really care that I forgot to fill in that column? Probably not. In the big picture of life, those things aren't even visible.
The even better news is that to God, none of our mistakes are visible. He has promised to "never again remember our sins" (Hebrews 8:12) once we submit to Him.
This promise of grace is so incredibly relieving. Because of His Grace, we don't have to continually strive. We don't have to meet the expectations that the world places on us, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
Being thankful will change your life
This year I learned how powerful it is to simply be thankful.
It's really easy to appear thankful and say you're thankful without really meaning it, but when you truly are thankful from the bottom of your heart, with every part of your being, it is powerful.
Worries, plans, stress, frustration, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, caving under pressure (all the common emotions that rise up especially in university) - all of these feelings evaporate to the heavens when you choose to be thankful. When you take a minute to rest in the present moment and thank God for all He has blessed you with.
It is impossible to be worried when you think about everything that God has given you and what a powerful and merciful God He is.
There are more important things than school
I went into university with sort of a 'get in and get out' mindset. I wasn't there to have fun and make friends, I was there to learn. It took me almost 2 semesters to learn that having friends and spending time together outside of lectures is actually stress-relieving.
Time isn't going to stop while you're in school. Life keeps moving. We need to make the most of the time that has been given to us. Some days you are definitely going to have to spend hours upon hours studying and finishing assignments, (some days just aren't the greatest!) but there's a balance. Take breaks! Go meet a friend for lunch, have a movie night, even invite a friend to study with you if you really can't pull yourself away from it.
John 15:13 says "There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends." Make sure you invest in your relationships. Don't let people drift away and don't miss out on memories. It's important for people (friends & family) to know that you care, even amongst the busyness of your life. Sometimes it might be important to sacrifice that extra hour of study time for someone. School (and the confusion at this point in your life) isn't forever, but your friends & family will be.
And no matter how busy you feel or how stressed-out you are, time with Jesus is essential. Nothing is as important as your relationship with Him. When you choose to be still in His presence, the plan that He has for you will become so clear, and peace will take over your life (Philippians 4:6-7).
You might know exactly where you're going. You might be able to see very clearly the direction that God is taking you.
You might be worried because your future looks misty. You might want to give God control but you don't know how to.
Or you might not really care where God wants to take you so you're holding on to control as tightly as you can.
But no matter where you are, where you think you're going, or where you have been:
Choose to be open. Choose to be thankful. And know that He is giving you peace and direction with open arms.
Your future is safe.
And you are going to do amazing things.
I know that Your love breaks my fall
Scandal of grace, You died in my place so my soul will live