I failed hard last year.
Okay, maybe I’m being hard on myself, but last summer I certainly felt like the World’s Biggest Failure of 2018 and Life. It took many months to rebuild my confidence, my sense of life direction, and pieces of my relationship with God.
So what happened? Great question. The simple answer is that my life plans didn’t go the way I wanted or expected them to go after I graduated college. I planned to jump straight into grad school—but the school I wanted to attend didn’t have a spot for me. To make the disappointment worse, that school was my own undergrad institution. When my plan didn’t become a reality, I was left with attempting to pick up the pieces of myself and my purpose as I tried to figure out what the heck God was doing with my life story.
I’ve talked a bit about this in past posts, but what makes this piece special is that it marks the last day of this “unwanted, unplanned, unexpected gap year.” You see, tomorrow I begin my graduate school journey. As I’ve learned so much from this past year, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the most important lessons I learned from my gap year.
Some of these lessons appeared in previous posts. In my “Songs of 2018” duo, I wrote on the month-by-month ups and downs as I struggled with depression, was reminded to put my hope in God, and that nothing else can fill my hope besides God. In another post, I spoke on how life doesn’t go how we expect it to and we should embrace that messiness as writers instead of hiding away from the world. After attending my alma mater’s Homecoming, I had a revelation about letting go of shame and fear in order to embrace the uncertainty and excitement of God’s larger plan for my life. (As a related side note, I’m delighted to say that my act in faith to reapply for my alma mater’s program ended up leading to an open door—which I’m about to walk through tomorrow!) Most recently, in my OYAN WW reflection, I wrote on the importance of inviting God into our mourning and the inevitability of change in our lives. All of these lessons are still ones I’m reflecting on as I prepare to enter this new season of life.
As the big picture of the past 14 months has come into clearer focus, some additional thoughts and realizations have come to me:
A change in circumstances doesn’t bring our joy back—only God can do that. This is mostly a theme from the latter half of 2018, but it’s worth repeating. In my despair and search for hope last year, I started to pin my happiness on a change of circumstances, whether it was the idea of moving to a place I love or finally securing a fulfilling job. But after many rejected job applications and coming to terms with the opportunity cost of moving, I realized that those pursuits would never fill me. Every new journey—exciting or not—is full of its own trials and hardships. The cycle of hoping that one more application would come back with positive news, only to receive yet another “no”—it was crushing and unsustainable. I had to stop pinning my joy on my circumstances, and instead lean into the reality that God had a plan for me. At that moment, that plan included being present where He had placed me by pouring into the people around me. Through that, my depression wasn’t cured overnight. Even when I did get accepted into grad school—at my alma mater, no less!—that didn’t trigger the change either. In fact, that acceptance and the preparations for the shift back to school brought up other insecurities, uncertainties, and stressors. Getting what I had wanted in the first place didn’t cure me. Only the slow restoration of my hope in God gradually brought me back to the place where my joy was restored.
Change is an inevitable part of this world. This is another topic I’ve written on, mostly in brief spurts. I think this is an extremely significant lesson for me, although I’ve certainly wrestled with it more than a few times in my life. Whenever I’m down or stressed, I have a tendency to seek my happiness and security in some sort of constancy: friendships, my alma mater, etc. This past year was full of me confronting the lack of constancy in this temporary life. Some of my friendships didn’t last the test of long-distance and time. When I went back for Homecoming at my school (only six months after graduating), already I saw signs of change: people I expected to be there forever were suddenly, unexpectedly gone. Even the church I attended during undergrad experienced a major upheaval that’s left it drastically different. When I looked to the future, I only saw more change: friends moving and going away. I realized that I couldn’t rely on anything on this Earth to be constant. Only God is unchanging. Only His Kingdom is eternal. Confronting change again and again helped me shift my focus from the temporary to the eternal things.
Friends united in Christ are never lost—we’ll see each other again soon. Speaking of friendship changes and farewells, this lesson came as a poignant reminder as I received a small glimpse of what heaven will be like not too long ago. At a graduation party for one of my friends, I was reunited with some friends who I hadn’t seen for a year. Our reunion was filled with laughs, joy, and natural conversation. I went away feeling full and satisfied, even though I really don’t know when I’ll see them again. But they are in Christ, and therefore they’re not lost forever. We’ll be reunited again by our amazing God. I found great comfort in that, and know that that truth bleeds into many of my friendships. I’m tearing up now thinking about it, knowing that good-bye is not the end thanks to our unifying Savior.
There’s no room for fear in my life. This is similar to my Thanksgiving post, only this time, I’m relearning how to be brave in loving others. It’s a battle I faced the first time I went to my alma mater, interestingly, and it seems like the cycle’s repeating itself. God is calling me to courage as I prepare to build new friendships, embrace my new job, and live on my own again. Even though I face anxiety and fear when I think about those things, I can’t let fear stop me. After all, God is with me. God breaks down every barrier and fights for me. He has called me to ministry in this place, in this season. With Him, I will not fail. I can’t live a life of fear in light of His Gospel truth.
God is the Only Thing that Matters in This Life. I would say, out of everything I learned this past year, this is key among them. Stripped away of my identity, my joy, my purpose, I was drawn yet again to the Cross of Christ and His Kingdom’s Mission. Even though I tried on different ways of living, different messages of the World, none of them fit. It didn’t make sense to believe in myself. Chasing my dreams wasn’t a reality. Nothing in this world—not friends, job, happiness—was lasting or satisfying. I came to see, more clearly than I ever have in my life, that working for the Kingdom of God and with His purpose in mind is the only lasting, satisfying way of life. It looks different in every season. This past year, it was about rebuilding my love and longing for the Lord as I served my family. This next year, it means investing in the community and position He’s placed me in during graduate school. I’m sure I’ll fail many times, but He is greater than anything I could accomplish on my own strength. Quite frankly, I desperately need Him, each and every second of the day. To combat fear, loneliness, anxiety. To use my time in a way that honors Him. To use the gifts He’s given me to encourage others and exhort them. I don’t want it to be a side-quest in my life, as it was at times in my past. He is my identity and my purpose, not something I merely attach to my identity and my purpose. I know now, more clearly than ever, that Jesus Christ, God and Savior, alone is worth serving. To Him be the glory in all I do, write, and am.
I don’t necessarily delight over this past gap year. It was hard, emotionally draining, and full of unpleasant moments. But I am thankful for it, in the end. I wouldn’t want to live through it again, but I wouldn’t want a life without it—if that makes any sense. God knew what He was doing, and I understand, at least partially, why my life progressed in the direction it did. I’m so excited to see what adventure He takes me on next.