38 days from now, I should be sitting in William’s Stadium, wearing a cap and gown, listening to the Secretary of State deliver the commencement address for the Class of 2020. Instead, I will be at home, with my family, practicing social distancing. The closing chapters on my college years are certainly not going as I had expected. I have dreamt of this moment for years and never in my wildest dreams did I envision not getting to attend my graduation ceremony due to a world-wide pandemic.
Seventh-grade me had a college list already all planned out because I could not wait for those four years of growing up, going somewhere new, being all in on school spirit, and studying for my future. Those four years turned into three, when high school me figured out that I could graduate early and save some money if I wanted to.
And then Covid-19 hit, turning those three years into just over two and a half years. My list of “lasts” to accomplish before graduating and plans to celebrate closing chapters have been squashed by stay-at-home orders and fears of contracting or spreading this disease.
I have cried. A lot. I have asked God why. I have found peace at times but also been crippled with anxiety. Everything is out of my control and grieving this sudden end to my college years has been confusing. I am filled with deep appreciation for my college years but also feeling regretful for time wasted.
The biggest regret that I have about my time in college is that I did not take advantage of the opportunities I had. I was so busy studying and working and trying to accomplish graduating early, that I neglected savoring the little things — afternoons on the campus lawn with friends, sunrise and sunset hikes, movie nights on the hall, and spontaneous late night trips to Cookout (if you know, you know). I let my desire to perform and succeed outweigh my desire to make memories.
And I should have said “yes” way more than I did.
Ecclesiastes 3 talks about “a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” To me, I have always read this passage as cliche and never really taken it to heart.
“Yes, I know that there is a time for everything, but Lord, I have my own agenda! I am working hard to be successful and diligent with my resources! It is my timing! I know things will disrupt me but I can handle it all! I’ll be able to have fun once I finish this next thing.”
Oh, how ignorant and naive! There is always going to be one more thing I can find to do and one more excuse for why I can not say yes.
If you get past the well known verses (1-8) in Ecclesiastes 3, you are hit with a reality check:
“What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.”
– Ecclesiastes 3:9-13
What do we gain from our hard work? Yes, it can be a burden in our lives because of the Fall, but there is redemption found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We know that earth is not our forever home and so if we are striving to accomplish earthly things they will all be meaningless. The hope of heaven should be our motivating factor for the future — not earthly accolades that will one day be forgotten.
Now, do not be mistaken — it is a gift from God that we should enjoy our work! Working hard in school is important and a wise choice — but so is fellowship with others. So is saying yes to serving in your community and saying yes to spending time in worship with other believers. So is saying yes to a simple afternoon enjoying God’s creation.
There is joy that comes from saying yes to the present.
King Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, continues to write about how humans are like animals and we will return to the dust of the ground and we will all be forgotten and everything is meaningless. Depressing, right? But the chapter ends with him saying that in spite of all this, it is good for people to enjoy their work, the fruit of their labor, and their lives.
If I work hard in my life to be what I consider as successful, where is the joy in that? I have had twenty years of focusing on my own path to know that I have been blinded to a much more fulfilling life. A life in which I say yes more easily and more readily. A life where I allow whatever it is my hands find to do, to not be my identity, but rather a portion of my life that brings joy, but does not take away from the blessings in the everyday. A life where I know that it is not my path, but the Lord’s and one that is much more life giving when it is filled with his presence and his people.
As I close the chapters on my college years, I leave ready to say yes to whatever the Lord would have for me to do and eager to join him in his work.