I have been pondering what I would say, given the chance, to the younger (say freshman college version) of myself. I then came up with the following 4 lessons I have learned in my 20 years of life and realized that they applied to every season of life, rather than solely upon the first year of college.
My prayer is that they may serve you, college freshman and everyone else, in your present season.
May God receive the glory that I give him not because He is in need of it, but because He has allowed me to partake in His glory.
1. God’s calling for your life is whatever you are currently doing.
“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:3-6
God’s calling for your life is not, though it may seem at times, a specific position that you will hold for the rest of your life. I started college believing that God had a specific “Step 1, 2, 3” plan for my life that began when I was born and goes until the end of my life. I thought that it was then my duty to discern the seemingly difficult steps God had for my life. This left me tired and distraught because if I missed step 3, it seems, I then messed up the proceeding steps for my life and ultimately ruin God’s plan for me.
As I lived in this discerning-the-steps mentality, I grew less and less dependent upon the Holy Spirit and lived in a spirit of complete fear. This isn’t how God designed it.
To discern God’s will for your life:
1. Become more like our Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Discern what gifts and talents he has given you and learn how to use them.
Picture this: You just got dropped off in the middle of the desert. You were given one specific task “Make it to the campsite.” The only specific facts you were given about the campsite is that it is where you belong and it is located North. Then it is obvious that if you are heading in a Northernly direction, you’re doing what you are called to do. As you continue in your Northernly journey to the campsite, you begin to discern that you are fairly good at swimming. In fact, you enjoy swimming and are better at it than you are at walking. Your friend, however, is growing increasingly better at jogging. It would make sense for you to head North swimming the river that you found because you’re better at it and enjoy it more than jogging. Your friend, on the other hand, decides they much rather jog than swim. So they jog in the direction of North. You’re both headed in the direction of your intended Northernly located campsite, but going about it different ways. If you decided to walk for a while rather than swimming, you’re not doing anything wrong because you are still headed North. The only way you or your friend could be in the wrong is if you begin to head South.
This is the picture of God’s will for your life. We as believers are first called to Christlikeness. The first step to discerning if you are in the will of God is to ask yourself, “Are my present actions and activities causing me to become more like Christ?” North, as mentioned in the story, is Christlikeness: God’s primary calling upon your life. Your ability to swim illustrates the gifts and talents that God has specifically given to you. As long as the things you are doing are causing you to become more like Christ and you are using your gifts and talents that God has given you, you are in the will of God. You are heading North. To head South would then be to not be growing in Christliness and away from God’s calling, or will, for you. You could still be using your gifts, like swimming or jogging, but you would be using them in the wrong way. This is why it is vital to first and foremost discern if you are headed North (becoming more like Christ).
Your “calling” or “God’s Will” for your life doesn’t begin once you get the job your degree allows you to have or once you gain the position you’ve alway dreamed of having.
You are called to whatever you’re doing now. Your job, that homework you don’t want to do, your college job, and those classes you don’t particularly love: that’s what you’re called to. The job you complain about and your work: you are called to them. To say that they aren’t your present calling would be as if to tell God directly that He is not big enough to use you in a seemingly small area of your life or job, like those little tasks that you think don’t matter and therefore do sloppily.
Your calling will change as you change seasons in life and it’s important to change the angle of the direction (North) of your life as you continue to discern what you’re good at and not as good at, such as beginning to swim when your journey to Christlikeness led you to a river. It’s okay to change positions because you’re not going miss out on God’s calling for your life, as long as you’re becoming more like Christ. Changing your stance, such as going from walking to swimming, could allow you to use your gifts better and therefore flourish better according to how God specifically designed you. Northwest is still North. Changing jobs and taking new opportunities doesn’t mean you’re outside of God’s will. You are free to pick and either choice will give God glory. Live in the freedom that Christlikeness gives you and learn how to use your given gifts and talents well. Right now, as a student in college or wherever you are in life, God’s calling for your life is your present position. Not that distant job you want in the future, but now. One day, that job you want will be God’s calling upon your life too. This is why it’s important to make the most of each season of life you are given, because you’re called to all of them and called to do them well.
If you’re a student, your current calling is student-hood for the season that you’re a student. Same goes for everyone else. We have an immense amount of freedom and choice in how we live our lives under the context of becoming more like Christ and understanding the unique gifts God has specially given us individually.
2. Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12
If you had asked me to define community a few years ago I would have simply told you that community was a group of people who spent a lot of time with one another, primarily in coffee shops. I had no real vision of what a community was meant to do, let alone designed for.
The dictionary defines community as the following: “The people of a district or country considered collectively, especially in the context of social values and responsibilities.”
There are many different types of people in the world, as God intended. We have varying personalities and interests, making everyone unique. However, we share the common responsibility that was given to us all in Genesis. Human beings are responsible for partaking in ordered harmony with others. This means, consequently, that we were made for community. Your community isn’t defined by the amount of friends you think you have or how many group photos you’re tagged in on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. You were made for personal relationship with other human beings so that you may be given the chance to practice and learn virtue. You cannot practice being selfless when you spend all day alone and you cannot practice being loving when you only have yourself to love.
What does all of this mean? Well, just because you sit in a coffee shop with a group of friends once a week does not mean you are in community. You’re only truly in community when you and the others truly know one another and are united in common values.
Here is my greatest advice on community: find a family. Community was first and foremost designed around the central unit of the family. It was not intended to consist solely of others your same age. Age designated activities, specifically in school, is an invention formulated only within the last century. When you look in Genesis, God designed the family to be where your community comes from. I understand that most of you have moved away from your family, gone off to college, or come from a family that doesn’t facilitate the best home life. I would encourage you to find a family within your Church that exemplifies the values of Christ and learn to do life with them. Learn from the mother and the wisdom she has to share about each season of life she has lived. Learn from the father and how he deals with the responsibilities of being a man. Learn how to selflessly love on the children. This is what true community was intended to look like: varying age groups doing life alongside one other. Community was intended to allow you to learn from others who have different and more life experience than you so that they may push you on to be a better person and for you to do the same for younger generations.
Everyone struggles with community, finding friends, and feeling alone, especially in transitional seasons in life such as college. All of your fellow students are looking for community as well. Are they looking out for people they can selflessly love and practice virtue with? Or are they looking for community to make themselves feel validated and not alone? Be the friend you are looking for in others. When your outlook on having friends your same age is one of selflessness, your friendships will be more fruitful. Don’t look at others and see their value based upon what they can do for you, but rather what you can do for them. This is the will for you according to your growth in Christlikeness. I realize this might sound cheesy, but it’s true. When you are not looking to get anything from other people you are able to serve them in a way, I would argue, that the majority of our culture has never experienced. True friendship that looks to serve, rather than to get.
A sure way of knowing if you are in community or not is to ask yourself the question, “Are the people I am surrounding myself with making moral demands on my life and pushing me to practice moral responsibility?”
Finding and surrounding yourself with these types of people might be harder than you realize, especially in a college environment. However, they exist and look vastly different than what social media makes “community” out to be. Choosing your friends is vitally important and determines a lot consequences, good or bad, in your life. Find a family within your community, such as your church, that you can do life with.
Find a community that makes moral demands upon your life and you will experience community (Family) as it was originally intended.
3. Make discipline a definition of your lifestyle.
“We may feel that a particular habit ‘isn’t too bad,’but continually giving in to that habit weakens our wills against the onslaughts of temptation from other directions.”
Jerry Bridges, Pursuit of Holiness
How do you balance it all? School, community, and still grow spiritually?
Something I struggled with Freshman year of college was trying to balance everything, but I was left feeling exhausted at the end of each semester. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Then I learned about what discipline looked like because I read The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges.
Discipline: controlled set of behaviors.
The first step to learning how to balance all aspects of life and being disciplined is realizing that life will always be busy. Rather than saying, “When I get out of college or this season of life I will have more time to do _______ or when I get out of this season I will stop doing ______.” Life will always seem too busy and the temptations of certain actions will always be there. Rather than putting off structure and discipline and claiming you’ll have it later in life, your life will be more fruitful and enjoyable if you learn to conquer these things now.
Learn to be disciplined in your time and what you spend your time doing.
Did you know that the average American adolescent spends 9 hours on media entertainment per day? This seems excessive at first, but what if you started to count ever little second you get on your phone? Recent studies have also shown that by the time young American males turn 21 they will have spent 14,000 hours on video games. That’s 583 days or 1.6 years. There are 168 hours in a week and you’re awake for roughly 100 of them. If you spend an exceeding amount of time on entertainment a day you take your 100 hours of time down to 40. That takes the 100 hours of opportunity God has for you and gives you less than half.
I began to teach myself disciple by running or doing some form of exercise a day. This forced me to get certain things done and make time in my day so that I would have time to run. This forced me to get up earlier and go to bed earlier. Once I began this routine I started having more time to do certain things. Suddenly my homework was getting done quicker, I have more time to read my Bible, and I was able to make time in my evenings for time with friends. All because I changed my sleeping habits. You make time for the things most important to you. If certain things are important to you, you will make them happen in your life. Initiating discipline into your life by learning the important of routine, such as working out and reading your bible everyday, and I promise you will gain balance in your life.
It’s important to remember that in order for you to have balance in certain things in your life, other things will begin to fade out. Excessive time watching movies, Netflix, and social media eat away your time and will cause you not to have a balanced life.
Time is one of the most precious gifts we have been given by God. Use yours well. God has roughly 100 hours a week to use you, how will you spend them?
4. Cultivate Silence in Your Life.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of your time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-18
I started my photography business as a Freshman in college. Being a photographer I spend a substantial amount of time in front of the computer. When I began my photography business the amount of TV shows I watched became excessive. I could not stand the silence. I needed something to “feed” my brain as I sat in the corner of my room with only the occasional click of my keyboard to break the stillness.
After I would spend a few hours in front of the computer and letting TV shows enter my mind, I would then proceed to try and do my homework. I noticed that every time I did homework or read a book after I watched TV, my ability to concentrate decreased a substantial amount. I couldn’t even drive in the car anymore without some form of noise or music playing. Without me even noticing it the jokes that I would laugh at or the thoughts that would enter my mind were becoming increasingly effected by the TV shows and movies I was playing in the background of my endless hours of editing. Once I began to pick up on this I tried an experiment on myself; I tried the silence. After a few weeks of sitting in silence, I actually began to enjoy it. Editing I was more present in the details of my photos and while driving I was able to reflect on what the Lord had been teaching me through my time with him and reviewed the concepts we had been reviewing in class.
Here’s a more vulnerable personal example. I love chick-flicks. Seriously. Give me the Pride and Prejudice and all the other rom-coms out there. I would naturally gravitate towards these while I was editing. I become increasingly more discontent being single. Seriously. The movies that I was constantly watching began to have an emotional affect upon me. Match that with editing wedding photos and you’ve got a disconent-single-struggling-Avery. It actually began to scare me. Do these movies, TV shows, and music actually have that much of an effect upon you? Actually, yes. Don’t get me wrong, I still watch chick-flicks, but ever once and a while rather than every day.
Why do I mention this? How many hours of Netflix do you watch a week? What kind of shows do you watch? What kind of movies do you laugh at? What words are used in the music that you listen to? How often to you sit in silence?
During which of these do you think the Lord is more able to speak to you?
Sitting in silence allows you to detox and re-evaluate aspects of life upon the standards of truth, beauty, and goodness; it allows you to make distinctions between the good and evil. Reflection is a gift from the Lord and the remembrance of what He has done in the past spurs you on to further trust in him for the future. Without reflection and remembrance, you are more likely to fall into sin because of a failure to distinction between good and evil, pleasure and truth.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might, And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:5-7
Repetition brings remembrance and remembrance brings forth praise. Remembrance gets the truths of God inside your heart so that you might know what to do in all circumstances and seasons of your life.
Give your mind the gift of silence, so that your heart will be given the opportunity to remember and reflect upon what the Lord has done in the past and therefore be encouraged in the remembrance of the faithfulness of the Lord you serve.