When I was a high school senior, sifting through the hundreds of recruitment pieces that landed in my physical and virtual mailboxes, I was overwhelmed with the number of fantastic colleges to choose from. Every picture I saw, every video I watched, and every letter I read gushed about how its respective college was ideal in some regard. And why shouldn’t these advertisements do just that? Why shouldn’t they speak truth? Every college has its positive aspects (some have more than others, of course… *cough, cough* Dordt *cough, cough*), and those good-filled elements are worth talking about. Somewhere in this mess of positivity, though, I picked up the idea that college would be a utopia, a place away from reality for me to spend four years preparing to reenter reality.
But here’s something that nobody advertises about college years: they’re four years of real life, and real life hurts sometimes.
True, your life changes drastically when you get to college. True, your rules of reality shift as you grow into adulthood, into the person you want to become. True, being in college is exciting and new and an adventure. But even when you go to a place as wonderful as Dordt, pain is still just as true as joy is.
People still get sick. Family crises still occur. Friends are still human, and they still fail you sometimes. Teams still lose. Classmates still struggle with depression, with anxiety, with eating disorders, with homesickness. Grandparents still die. Coursework still tests you. Car accidents still happen. Faith is still a blend of trust and doubt. Relationships are still complicated, and people still break up. Futures are still uncertain. It’s not as if these heartaches are behind the starting line, preparing to run their course when the gun goes off, when the tassel moves from the right to the left side of a graduation cap.
This semester, our campus has spent our chapel time exploring the Psalms. Each week’s lesson expresses a similar theme because each Psalm expresses a similar theme: life is a peculiar blend of good and bad, of joy and pain. Our collective humanity no longer lives in Eden, where good and bad remained in their definitive boundaries. Instead, we marinate in a strange blend of the two. Good and bad mingle, they shake hands and agree to coexist not only within the same planet, but even within the same moment. Though joy and pain are still distinct, we experience them concurrently – which is precisely what is so hard about being human. This was true of my pre-college experience, it’s true now, and it will continue to be true until Jesus returns to redefine the rules of reality.
In each of his Psalms, David expresses this complexity honestly. He never denies his pain. He’s not afraid to pray, “God, this sucks.” He’s not afraid to sit in the hurt, to feel it fully and to legitimize his experience in the presence of the God that has a hand in everything, including his circumstances and consequent emotions.
Simultaneously, though, David remembers who God is. David remembers all of the adjectives so often ascribed to God: faithful, good, compassionate, generous, merciful, loving, etc. More importantly than remembering character traits, though, David remembers who God is. David remembers the knowledge of God he’s learned through experience, through intimate relationship.
“My soul is cast down within me. Therefore, I remember who you are… Why are you cast down, oh my soul? And why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” - Psalm 42: 5, 11
For David, life is not a clean-cut series of either/ors. Rather, it’s a mud puddle of both/ands. It’s not brokenness or wholeness, suckyness or elatedness. It’s both at the same time. That’s what’s so difficult about existing, and it’s also what’s so exciting about being alive. We can hurt, and that pain is true. But we can also remember who God is, and the hope His identity carries is also true.
So, despite the fact that Dordt is a spectacular place, and despite the fact that I’m sure I’m called to be here, this season of my life has still held its fair share of hurt. And my hurt is true, and perhaps I’m called to the hurt. After all, I’m surrounded by people that are willing to hurt with me. And in creating opportunities for these people to demonstrate such unbounded compassion and unconditional love, God is enabling these people to strengthen their own gifts.
And because Dordt is a spectacular place, and because I’m sure I’m called to be here, this season of my life has also held its fair share of healing. And my healing is also true, and it comes about because I’m surrounded by people that are God’s love manifest.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. – 1 John 4:12
So as I continue to hurt and heal, I’ll continue to marvel at the people God has gifted me with: people that send perfectly timed care packages, that sleep on my couch so that I’m not alone, that give me genuine hugs because they know my hurt, that pray for me, that pray with me, that simply sit with me to keep me focused on my homework, that take me out for coffee, that text me encouragement, that spend their Friday nights finding fun with me, that don't do anything out of the ordinary, but carry me simply by being themselves and by being my friend. I’ll continue to marvel at the way that the Christianese phrase “doing life together” has taken on a meaning for me, since I’m truly living it out within a community that hurts and heals and heals and hurts and revels in both, always reminding each other who He is simply by being.