I'm about to graduate from college. But I feel I'm not ready to. It wasn't until this year that I realized how awesome college is and how cool people are. I've finally been able to come out of my shell, mingle with other people, and do things like go to dances. I've discovered an eagerness to learn new things, and I've developed new interests to pursue even after college.
But I feel as though I missed out on a lot while I was here. I've had good times, but also hard times, because I have been working on my faith and trying to become more Christlike. It has been hard. Sometimes -- even right now -- I feel that Christ is so far from me. Like He isn't with me, isn't helping me. I try to listen to His whisper, but with all the other competing voices inside me, sometimes it's hard. No magical realization comes over me about what He wants me to do.
I've had all sorts of dreams and plans. Some of them I've sacrificed, believing that this would draw me closer to Christ's will. But when I look at other Christians around me and what they're doing now -- going on mission trips, taking on leadership positions -- I feel I wasted all my years of college and spiritual life because I was so busy trying to work on my spiritual life.
I feel scared now and uncertain of the times. I thought if I did well in college and all then I would feel content in what I had done here and go for a job like other college kids do. But I don't. Is something wrong with me? Is this Jesus telling me I have screwed up again?
I really want to find peace in my life. I want to believe that I fulfilled my years in college. I want to look forward to a new life -- with a career, a girlfriend, more joy, and all that stuff. I really don't want to feel the pain of regret, thinking that even though I thought I was doing my best to live each day at college like it was my last, I was missing so much. Thanks.
I've had afraid-to-graduate conversations, feel-like-I-missed-out conversations, and aw-shucks-just-when-college-is-getting-fun-I-have-to-leave conversations. But your letter is different and more interesting. The line that arrested me was "I feel I wasted all my years of college and spiritual life because I was so busy trying to work on my spiritual life."
Was it something like this? One day your friend Mary mentioned, "Hey, we're going on a mission trip. Want to come?" You answered, "Thanks, but I can't. I've got to develop my sense of mission." Another time, Zack dropped by and said, "We're starting a prayer team. Can I get you to join?" You answered "Sorry, Zack. I'm too busy praying." Then there was the day that Colin mentioned, "I'm looking for people to help think up Christian scholars to come and speak. You'd be great at that. How about it?" You answered, "I wish I could, but I've had to give up that sort of thing so that I can get closer to Christ."
This year it's finally hit you that you've been going at the whole thing backward. The discovery is such a shock that you're finding it hard to focus on everyday things, like finding a post-college job. Is something wrong with you? Have you wasted your time at college? Have you screwed up "again"? (Interesting choice of adverb, by the way.)
Taking the three questions in order: No, no and no. By your own account, you followed Christ constantly, the best you knew how; you begged Him to change you for the better; and it looks to me as though that's just what He has been doing. Haven't you noticed that He is answering your prayer? No, I see that you haven't. Shall I explain?
Consider. Before, you hadn't discovered the thrill of discovering knowledge. Now you have. Before, you had no interests to pursue. Now you do. Before, you hadn't come out of your shell. Now you have. All through college, you tried to pursue your relationship with Christ more or less by yourself. Now you know that you need fellowship with other Christians. These are wonderful things, not bad ones; progress, not regress.
As to your fear that you "wasted" your time at college: Certainly you wasted opportunities. But from another point of view, nothing was wasted. God uses everything. We must assume that Christ brought you to this point by the shortest route He could. The path that looks shorter to your imagination was not one that you could take. You believe that you ought to repent; far be it from me to say you're wrong, but do you know the meaning of the word "repent"? The Greek word is metanoia; it means to turn your mind around, to think differently. So don't look backward: "Woe is me that I didn't get here sooner." You wouldn't even be tempted to look backward, if you hadn't come this far. Repent and look forward: "I’m truly sorry I wasted those opportunities -- but thanks be to God that He finally got me here!" What might He plan for you now that He has brought you here?
There are three things you don't know yet, because you're too young. (Since I'm getting to be such a fossil, I'm allowed to say that.) Failures are normal; periods of self-doubt are normal; and intervals of dryness in prayer are normal. God can use our failures, if we learn from them; He can use our self-doubts, if we don't wallow in them; and as for those intervals of dryness, just think. If He never withdrew the feeling of His presence, how would we ever learn to trust in Him? Instead we would trust in the feeling. He uses all these things to train us.
And we need that training. As your spirits lift -- trust me, they will -- your temptations and challenges won't vanish. But they will change. The temptations of a man who spends all his time at home aren't the same as the temptations of a man who goes to a dance now and then. Some will be new. That's normal too. Don't be afraid. Just be prepared.
I know how frustrating it is to try to hear the Triune God in the clatter and clamor of your mind. You might pray something like this. "Master, you wouldn't permit me to suffer this clamor unless it could somehow serve You; therefore I offer it to You. You who charged the storm to be still, I await Your voice of command." I don't mean that you will have a "magical realization" about what to do with your life. He won’t show you the blueprint of His providence. You may still feel that you’re in the dark. But He will make clear enough to you what you really need to know.