The start of a school year can be very overwhelming. There’s the process of getting accustomed to new classes; reconnecting with friends; overcommitting to twelve different clubs, ministries and jobs at various overstimulating fairs; figuring out what said clubs, ministries or jobs to let go of; and finally settling into a routine. Once that routine finally works itself out, it is a bittersweet sensation, because one must come to terms with the fact that his or her current level of craziness is now the baseline. In other words, it doesn’t get any easier from here.
I don’t mean to paint an overly-cynical picture of the college experience, nor do I think that the common euphemisms of “college is a balancing act” or “college is a juggling routine” quite do the situation justice.
Afterall, if we really pick it apart, balancing on a tightrope can be quite terrifying. The person balancing is in constant peril of falling from a height of perhaps 100 feet or more. So actually, taken literally, maybe this comparison is analogous to the college experience.
All semesters are difficult at first, but the start of this semester was more life-altering for me than any other.
This year, my grandmother passed away during the first week of classes.
To continue with our balancing act metaphor, prior to my grandmother’s passing, I had been trying to walk across the tightrope all on my own. The death of my grandma was as if I was knocked off of the rope entirely, and then expected to get back on but with a load of ten plates in either of my hands … and maybe some balanced on my head for good measure.
Never before in my life had it been so abundantly clear to me how dependent I really am — on God and on others. Up until that point, I had this desire ingrained within me to do everything for myself, without help from others. “Do it on your own. Don’t ask for help. Don’t admit that you need help, at all costs. As a matter of fact, don’t need.” These are the types of messages that I would tell myself.
However, when I came back to school, I felt like I was drowning (mixed metaphors, I know, for all of you fellow English majors out there, but bear with me). I imagined myself being in a similar situation to Saint Peter when Jesus calls him to walk on the water. I would say to Jesus, “I’m sinking!” and Jesus would reply, “You’re not sinking. Just look at me, and you’ll see.”
What a frustrating answer this was — in my stubbornness.
In truth, I didn’t want to hear that answer. I wanted to continue believing the fallacy that I was capable of sustaining myself. However, the more I tried to do everything on my own, the more evident it became that I couldn’t. I became discouraged and despondent over this — by my lack of progress, by the flood of tasks hanging over my head that I had barely put a dent in. It seemed like I was lightyears behind in my work, and I had not even taken much time to grieve.
As more and more of my control seemed to slip and goals kept caving in around me, I began to think that maybe I was looking at things incorrectly. Maybe, instead of being disappointed in myself that I couldn’t do it all, I should have been happy — happy that the message that God had been trying to tell me for a long time was finally beginning to make its way inside my thick skull.
The circumstances around the start of my semester eventually demanded that I ask for help, no matter how reluctant I was to do so. They demanded that I tell others that I didn’t know as much as they did, that I was behind or confused, or that hands-down, I literally had no idea what I was doing.
As uncomfortable as this was for me, it has been a freeing experience overall. It’s taken off some of the self-imposed pressure from over the years, when I told myself that everything would fall apart if I was not the one keeping it in balance.
It’s shown me how good it can feel to accept help and let others assist me in carrying my load. It’s revealed to me that vulnerability does not equate to weakness and that sharing vulnerability with others can actually lead to some of the most beautiful and human moments of our lives.
It has proven to me that others will not ridicule me when I am not at my best, but rather they will build me up — if I let them. It has helped me to accept myself, even when I am not able to perform at maximum capacity, or not even able to perform at all.
And lastly, it has shown me that I’ve never truly been the one keeping everything in balance and that to deny the fact that I need is to deny my identity as a created being. It is not a weakness to need. In fact, accepting our need and surrendering in the midst of it is the greatest strength we can have, for God says to us, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10