This article is part of the Open Letters series.
Dear College Student,
College is often depicted as a time of great freedom and discovery, and rightly so. In both Western culture and the modern educational system, it seems like all roads lead to the college experience. Elementary school prepares you for middle school which prepares you for high school which prepares you for college. It seems like a straight line to a strategic destination, a ladder whose rungs lead you to the penultimate experience.
To be fair, the college experience is unlike most any other experience. For a fertile few years, you are given the opportunity to spend time and energy learning and growing physically, mentally, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually among peers. While you think you don’t have any spare time, in reality, you have more expendable time in college than you will in the near or distant future. As such, I hope and pray you are soaking it all in: the late-night conversations after a midnight meal, the road trips where the destination matters less than the company and the playlist, the classroom conversations which opened up horizons you didn't know existed.
However, the further into college you step, the more you realize that what you thought was the destination is really only an incredible depot for decisions.
As underclassmen, you relish the newfound freedoms set before you. You take full advantage of having no one to set a curfew. You delight in the delectable choices in the cafeteria, as the “freshman fifteen” evidences. As you progress through the years, the choices become increasingly weighty. You are tasked with choosing a major (which you will likely switch a few times) and selecting courses and electives which begin to have more bearing on your career.
Whereas graduation used to signify a significant celebration, you begin to realize it is also a launching pad into a world with seemingly endless choices. You likely begin to agree with Søren Kierkegaard who quipped that anxiety was “the dizziness of freedom.”
- Should I take the MCAT?
- Should I take a year off?
- Should I move back home and save money to pay off college debt?
- Am I ready for the working world?
- Which jobs should I apply to?
- Am I over-qualified or under-qualified?
- Am I spiritually ready for the “real world”?
- How will I make ends meet?
- Am I pursuing this career for its success or for its alignment to my calling and wiring?
Well-intended academic advisors ask questions. Your parents ask questions. These questions only highlight and magnify the questions you are asking yourself. These weights were heavy enough centuries ago, but our modern cultural milieu magnifies them.
A culture which largely assumes self as the ultimate sovereign tells you in a hundred loud ways and a thousand subtle, insidious ways, “You can be whoever and whatever you want to be,” “The sky is the limit,” and “You get to create your own future.”
While these promises sound like freedom, they can create a crushing weight on students who stand at the triple junction of career, calling, and adulthood. Thankfully, the Scriptures do not leave us alone with self as sovereign in our decisions. By dethroning self and re-enthroning the rightful King who can carry the weight of the universe, the Bible offers us counterweights in God’s sovereignty and his providential steering of all of human history, including our own lives.
A mysteriously Triune God invites us to hold the mysterious tension of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. As Proverbs 16:9 succinctly tells us, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” While our culture wants to make this an either/or, the Scriptures insist on a both/and. We have been given the freedom of choice, yet our choices are steered and superintended by a sovereign God whose will stands. When we face significant decisions, we tend to want to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory realities. However, as C. H. Spurgeon reminds us, “I never reconcile friends.”1
God wants more for us than a checklist for decision-making; he longs for us to be conformed to his character and drawn towards him.
The Scriptures may not offer us a map, but they give us Christ, a compass and a community. In Christ, we find the One who carried the heavy burden of our sin in his body on the cross (Isaiah 53:4–5; 1 Peter 2:24). He who has carried such an unthinkable and eternal weight assures us that he can easily carry the weight of our cares, concerns, and decisions (1 Peter 5:6–7; Philippians 4:6–7). In the pairing of the living and active word of God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who illuminates the Scriptures, we receive a compass far better calibrated than any earthly tool (Hebrews 4:12–13; John 16:13–14). In the local church, God offers us a community who knows our nuanced situations and chooses to walk alongside and ahead of us as we make decisions.
We may still wish that God would skywrite his will for us, but he refuses to give us something less than that which becomes a true child of God. God wants more for us than a checklist for decision-making; he longs for us to be conformed to his character and drawn towards him in intimacy and dependence. He invites us into the decision-making process because he wants to be with us, to wrestle with us, to refine us, and to be enough for us. As such, decisions are not a problem to solve, but a privilege to steward well.
The Weight of Glory
These soaring Scriptural truths do not take the weight out of our decisions; however, they set the decisions we face on the backdrop of the weight of glory. The God who has a will for you cares much more than you do about helping you step into it. If you are his adopted child, he has tied you into his own commitment to his name and his work. Our God is not only a master engineer, but also a magnificent and detailed artist. Everything he purposes, he does and does perfectly. Underneath your decisions and their consequences are his everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:26–27).
If these rich biblical realities do not free you to enjoy the unique, decision-heavy season of life that is college, I don’t know what will. So, while you are enjoying the road trips and enduring the term papers, don’t forget to enjoy the presence of the One who stands with you as you make every decision, from the minute to the monumental.
- Packer, J. I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 43.
Aimee Joseph is the author of Demystifying Decision-Making: A Practical Guide.
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