The end of my seminary journey seemed to end just as quickly as it began. As I hit “Submit” on my laptop for the last time, I was hit with a flurry of emotions. It was equal part excited and anxious. I had just finished a very important chapter in my life’s story but yet felt unable to fully grasp what I had accomplished.
Why did I feel incomplete?
What was preventing me from boldly stepping into the next chapter of my life, just as I had done at the beginning of my seminary journey?
I had to ask myself, “Why was I so confident in my success entering graduate school and how did I lose that confidence along the way?” I realized that in order to be successful in the next chapter of my life I had to answer this one very important question, “I just graduated seminary, now what?”
I will get right to the chase and say that a big part of my anxiety after graduation was due to my lack of integration into my graduate school. I did not take full advantage of all of the offerings my seminary offered its’ students. In other words, it was my lack of connection to the community that hindered my success upon graduation. (This is terribly ironic because “community” is supposed to be the thing “Christians” champion.) I asked myself, “Where did I go wrong?” I could try and point to a list of excuses but the truth is, I was afraid.
I was afraid to let people get to know me. I felt that once anyone at seminary got to know me, I would be left out or not accepted by my colleagues. This might sound like a normal thought for a person entering a new context for the first time, however, this was supposed to be a different context. I was entering a “safe, Christian” community, a place of academia where doubt and questions roamed free. I had to dig deeper within myself and find out why I was allowing so much negativity to ruin my clear thinking. Amongst all of the discerning and questioning, I uncovered something about myself that was affecting how I approached every major occurrence in my life. I realized the origins of my fear and anxiety were not coming from my context or my environment, it was coming from my expectations.
Have you ever been so excited about an opportunity that you forget to take off your rose colored glasses and really see if the opportunity is in fact really that great? I did. In fact, I never took off my rose colored glasses, ever. Even when I would tell myself to take off my rose colored glasses, I continued to move forward knowing I was creating a false reality that, in the end, would leave me feeling gravely disappointed regardless of the outcome. What type of person behaves like this?
I did, and I did it every day.
This type of behavior is very damaging, not only to me but to those around me. My reality, post seminary, looked nothing like I had hoped it would when I began. As I am writing this post, there are things happening around me I never could have accounted for. I will admit, I have moments that I feel like seminary was a complete waste of my time and resources. Then I am reminded of passages such as 1 Corinthians 7: 17 that states, “Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them,” With these words, I am given a new perspective.
I have come to realize that the expectations I placed on myself, my graduate school and even God, would have never come to reality, regardless of what I do or don’t do. (I call this phenomenon the “Luther-Lens.” God’s presence in my life will always constant because of my faith in Him.) In my mind I had created a reality that could never become true; this was part of the trouble. The only way I would be free to move forward with any type of work or project would be to dramatically change how I view my approach to work.
Author Tim Keller writes, “The question regarding our choice of work is no longer, ‘What will make me the most money and give me the most status?’ The question must now be, ‘How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and of human need?’” I finally see now that seminary was not just a chapter in my story, it was an awakening to redefine how I approach each and everything that I do. This includes work, ministry, music, family and all of the things that make my life what it is. What I do can define me if it is definable by living in accordance with things greater than myself. This may seem counter-cultural, but for me, it is unbelievably liberating.
Seven months (and counting) have passed since my last day of seminary. Am I exactly where I wanted to be? No, not even close. Am I a little bit anxious of the many unknowns that lie ahead? Sure, if I let myself succumb to it. One of my most valuable lessons from seminary was, it can be an appropriate time to “wait on God.” However, I have found most of the time I am at peace when I am moving with God, trusting Him to be faithful to the words written in Ephesians 2:8 “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift…” Every day I can move closer to finding out the next chapter in my story by trusting God, putting one step in front of the other, and keep a healthy perspective on where I travel. God promised us a life more abundant, who am I to ask him to calm the storm when, at times, it can be so fun to ride the wave?