Today I want to tell you a story. It isn’t a happy story. It isn’t a fun story. But it is an important story. And most of all it’s a hopeful story. It’s a story about starting over.
As I sat in the aluminum folding chair on the stadium field of my college, the sun beating down on my black cap and gown, I watched the last of my classmates walk across the stand to accept their diplomas. In the mad rush that followed the end of commencement with students attempting to gravitate toward family and friends in the crowd, I heard one phrase over and over. So what comes next?
It was a question that left me quaking in my heels and my head spinning. After all, when I envisioned my graduation four years ago, the answer to that question was simple. When I started college I was The Plan Girl. Everything was charted out, goals written out and four year plan in place. I was going to graduate without debt with a degree in Communication and become a newspaper reporter. I even had a Plan B: a dual degree in English so that one day I could go back and become an English teacher if something didn’t go the way I planned. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
But life doesn’t always have the same plan that you do. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that things went wrong, that I began to have doubts about my grand plan. I wasn’t sure that I was all that cut out for the pace of life that is demanded of a journalist and I didn’t think that journalism afforded me the opportunity to write about the kind of things I believed were important to write about. And it seemed like maybe God agreed with me. Because one day, out of the blue, He afforded me a new opportunity. I was approached by three professors one school day about applying to a program that would help me go to graduate school and get my PhD. At the time I didn’t even really understand what one does with a graduate degree but with only 72 hours to decide whether or not to apply it seemed like an answer to the doubts I had been having. So I jumped in with both feet.
It was a decision that I should have given more thought to because the next and final two years of my college experience are what I hope were the worst two years of my life. I’m not certain I could survive anything worse. I divided my time between 16 or 17 hours of classes a week and the homework that comes with that, a forty hour a week job, and deciding what graduate program and school fit my goals and personality. The time commitments and the countless decisions to be made were crippling. And the pressure finally culminated in one moment.
I was sitting at my computer in the December of my senior year. On the screen were seven tabs with seven big, fat SUBMIT buttons waiting for me to hit click and officially apply to seven different graduate schools. Everything was ready. All the reference letters. All the personal statements. Everything. And yet something wouldn’t let me hit send. Something held me back. In tears I called the director of my McNair department and talked through the doubts assailing me. After a really long conversation, we realized that for two years I had been trying to make my goals fit into the plan I had committed to and in the end, it wasn’t going to work.
And so there I was, three months before graduation and no plan for the future. And that’s a scary place for anyone to be. Especially if you believe, as I do, that everyone has some special purpose that God put them on this Earth to fulfill. There are hundreds of thousands of people who suffer with depression daily. And while I have always had great sympathy for those individuals, in the months that followed that December I really began to understand and feel compassion for them.
I told you this was a story about hope, didn’t I? Well here it comes friends.
One early Sunday morning heart sore and soul weary, I sat down with my Bible and discovered the story of Elijah. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Elijah’s story ( 1 Kings 19) but his doesn’t exactly start off very triumphant either. Tasked with doing an important job by God, Elijah faced great obstacles and fearsome persecution. The emotional toll was so great that Elijah cried out to God to take his life (1 Kings 19:4) and so God sent him up on a mountain. There on the mountain Elijah witnessed a great, strong wind that tore into the mountains. But God was not in the mountains. Then came an earthquake. But God was not in the earthquake. Next, a fire. But God wasn’t there either. And finally, a still small voice. And in that still small voice, Elijah heard God (1 Kings 19:11-13).
And sitting there, rediscovering the story of Elijah, I began to wonder if in the loud chaos of my life I was listening for the still small voice of God? In the last two years I watched as I left life events blow away my goals and aspirations. My foundation was shaken by doubts and fear. And my priorities burnt away semblance physical health and spiritual peace.
And in the early morning stillness I prayed a simple prayer.
I have withstood the wind, the earthquake, and the fire and I didn’t find you. Please make still. Let me hear your voice so that you may reveal your plan for my life. I’m ready to listen.
That day marked the moment I decided to start over. For me that means waiting for God to reveal His plans for me. It means making the scary choice to simply be. At times I feel guilty that I’m not living the life I said I would be by now. But if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that so long as I let my expectations of life outweigh everything else I won’t hear His voice. And I won’t be living up to the potential that God has for me. So for the next year I intend to substitute teach and write part-time and in every moment be listening for God’s plan.
I still pray that prayer every night, waiting for the day I hear that still small voice….