Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bring On the College Years

Oh, adulthood. It’s a strange thing, isn’t it? I think as little children we’re always chasing after it, or at least what it has to offer. Freedom from bedtimes and rules, being able to do what you want when you want-- choices. And then you go to high school where you’re ready to get out and move away to college and start your life. But so many people in the background are saying, “These will be the best years of your life! You’ll be dying to return.” And then there’s college, and you spend those four (sometimes five…oops!) years thinking that it is real life. Until you graduate. And you realize college was not reality but you have now, finally met real life face to face.

I can’t say I’ve fallen into the “high school was the best time of my life” group. Like at all. Every time I drive past my old high school, I feel like shouting, “Freedom!!” You know, the Mel Gibson version from Braveheart. I didn’t have a bad high school experience, just the opposite. But I always felt that people were so dramatic and mostly disingenuous with their thoughts and their friendships. And when I look at the Facebook pages of many current high schoolers, I see that this is still the case. I guess it’s true- “the more things change the more they stay the same.” And just like every high school teenager, I said, “Oh I’m going to move away to college as soon as I graduate.” False. This did not happen, and I’m so not sad about it. Word of the wise-- there are very few careers that consider the school that you received your undergraduate from. Do yourself a favor-- go to the state school. You’ll thank yourself later when you aren’t swimming in student loan debt, and you can use your salary for whatever you want.

While it’s true that I drive past the high school and don’t miss it, driving near campus is an entirely different story. It’s funny because I thought I’d never miss college either. Wrong. I remember the first week of classes as a freshman, I was so overwhelmed and thought I’d never enjoy it. But time passed, and I began to appreciate the independence college lends over your schedule, the love affair it spurned with coffee. I became a fantastic parking place stalker (if you’ve been a student at MTSU, you completely understand this statement), managed to enjoy the downtime between classes when I had a sucky schedule by treating myself to Starbucks on campus, and I even narrowed down the walk between the Honors building and Peck Hall to a quick 8 minute trek (P.S. WHY on earth did I schedule myself that walk for 3 semesters in a row?!). It really was a time of responsibility without the immediate consequences--- definitely NOT real life. Stay up too late the night before? It’s ok, just skip class the next morning and sleep in. There’s no attendance policy. Sure, you might scramble to make up what you missed, but really no big deal. Spend 8 hours studying for an exam the day before because you haven’t looked at the information at all in the previous weeks? Passed test. It’s funny because I kinda had this sense I was living in the real world. There’s lots of people who are all busy and consumed with what they’re doing at the moment. You walk past them in herds, say thank you to the person who holds the door for you, eat near them in the University Center while you both study different course work, and then you sit in class and form an acquaintance based on your mutual dislike for the professor who reads his lecture notes from a legal pad that is older than you…. If you compared the picture, it looks a lot like people passing each other in a work building, being busy with some task, living in the real world. But it’s not really-- the people are different and the consequences aren’t the same. You’re accountable, but only to yourself. Things are easier in college. More free. Some of my closest friendships were formed there. In fact, I have fond memories of going to a friend’s apartment on campus in between classes while we both trudged through the chaos of 18 hours and 2 teaching practicums, case studies and observations… Swear, what was I thinking?! I met her my first day of class after switching majors in my junior year. I sat down beside her in an Educational Psychology class (which I was always chronically late for). I’d been married for a few months and she was planning her wedding. We became friends and stayed friends, through marriage and graduation, new jobs, new homes, and now as we build our families. And naively, I have thought that all my relationships would be this way if I just wanted them to. That the time you spend investing in others spills out into friendships that lasts, friendships that allow you to talk about the hard things, that challenge each other with confrontation, that are vulnerable with honesty, that are transparent and don’t hide the brokenness that exists in each person’s life. Sharing life with each other. But I am learning that this is not always the case, not in the real world. Not in a world where even other believers are broken and incapable of transparency, of showing the ugliest parts of themselves.
It’s been hard for me, and it’s had me missing my time in college-- when things were easy and relationships were soft. When I was unaware of the cost of pouring your life into others. When the responsibility of choices felt light. I’m learning that you just can’t lay down roots in every friendship, even if you wanted to so badly. Not all people are open to that.  In fact, many of the people that you pour yourself into will walk in and then walk out of your life. It might not be immediately. It might be years down the road, which makes it harder I think. Some people enter your life, take what they need, and exit as quickly as they arrived. Some people throw themselves into and out of friendships whenever things get difficult or whenever it’s time to move to the next level of honesty of vulnerability, making a slow exit, leaving you in the wake to figure out where things stand. It’s a messy picture, but relationships are messy. Sharing life with other people is messy, and I’ve found that many people just aren’t ready for that type of commitment.

I talked about this with Tommy the other day and with my sister. They are always who I seek when I need counsel. Tommy always speaks directly to my heart. I never have to say much for him to already understand where I’m at and why. He knows me well. And my sister encouraged me to think on the example set by Christ-- the commitment Jesus had to His Father, and His disciples- his friends--just lagging along half-heartedly as He was deeply invested, taking what they needed from Him…. She reminded me that this is the model for our relationships. Except we aren’t the Perfect loving the imperfect. We’re the imperfect soul loving other imperfect souls, which complicates things. That the investment isn’t what matters as much as bringing glory to God through loving others rightly. Because really, it just isn’t about me. Even though I want it to be, to be about my friendships and the closeness that I feel to others. Even though I think I cast that off, my needs and my wants…. There I am again, with all my expectations wrapped up in other people. But what happens in this life in terms of relationships has much more to do with the Kingdom of Christ than it has to do with me.

Sometimes the cost of investing in others to not have it reciprocated is high. To think that there is a mutual sacrifice and sharing of life together and then find out that isn’t it the case-- it’s hard. And it hurts. But this…. THIS is real life... Where people hurt and aren’t whole, where communication failures abound, where the façade of perfection reigns over the realities of brokenness.  Where people put up walls and keep others out. Where people aren’t kind and are sinful--even me. The consequences and realities are much harder than that in college. Real choices lead to real effects.  The accountability is heavy. It is the reality of adulthood.

Of course, no child knows that this is what they are chasing after. Otherwise, they’d happily accept their naptime, orange juice, and the little friend that keeps demanding they share the toys. But it is real. And even though there’s sadness involved, there’s hope too.  “.. Behold, I am making all things new…” Rev. 21:5. I believe that extends to hearts and people, even to relationships.  I am trying to remember this, so when people disappoint me (and they will, just like I will disappoint them), I can keep a better perspective on my calling and my purpose. That I will choose to find my expectations in the person and completed work of Jesus Christ instead of in others.  It’s a hard road to walk, but one I do not walk alone. And as I’ve entered into adulthood, I’ve become abundantly grateful for friendships that are real. Ones that are open and honest, capable of weathering hard conversations and reveling in one’s accomplishments without envy. The ones where they walk beside you and live out the Gospel, where the ebb and flow of the relationship looks like constant sacrifice and service-- mutual care. I’m finding these are very rare relationships indeed, but worth pursuing. They might’ve been friendships forged in childhood or adulthood, out of mutual like or necessity, but no matter how they were created there is potential to spur one another on to good works. I’ve always been grateful for friends, but I think this realization has pushed me over to a new level of gratitude. Maybe that was the point all along…..And for these people in my life, the ones who stay and wade through the darkness and celebrate in the joys of life, the ones who check-in when others check-out, for you all…. I am so incredibly thankful. 

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