The Dreaded Two-Letter Word

Photo credits to my lovely roommate, Ellen Inggrid Dengah.

Photo credits to my lovely roommate, Ellen Inggrid Dengah.

Busyness becomes a competition in college.

“Oh, you play a varsity sport? Well I’m in the musical and I’m on Student Symposium and I volunteer in the nursery at my church.”

“Oh yeah? Well I’m in charge of the sustainability committee and tutor Spanish students. Plus I play intramural softball and I manage the business club, which means I work at 55th basically every night.”

“I run cross country and track, so I don’t even have an off season. And homework during the day? No way! I’m in Concert Choir and Kantorei. I also work at the movie theatre in addition to my maintenance work study.”

 “I’m a digital media major. Everybody is always asking me for help making videos for campus events. I did the video for TX, the freshman talent show, NCDC, the Pops Concert, and convocation last year. And I write for the Diamond.”

“Well I’m a nurse. I average five hours of sleep per night.”

“That’s plenty of sleep! I’m on res life staff, so between babysitting my professors kids twice a week, basketball practice, planning wing events, taking 21 credits, swing dance club, and the travelling worship team, I’m lucky if I get three hours a night.”

In taking an honest look at those statements, can’t you hear them coming out a friend’s mouth, if not your own?

As college students, and especially as Dordt college students, we’re constantly offered opportunities to fill our schedules. A day doesn’t go by without an in-person invitation or an email or a text message regarding a service project or an acting job or a summer course that I would love to participate in. And would I want it any other way? Absolutely not! There’s nothing like living in a place where people are involved, taking initiative to create outlets for their passions. It’s inspiring.

But, as President Hoekstra wisely noted during his chapel talk last January, God has only given us 24 hours in a day, and that time constraint is a pretty good indicator of what He’s calling us to. In other words, He’s not calling us to take on every responsibility that finds its way into our inbox.

College is about learning – obviously. Much of that learning happens outside the classroom, though, including this lesson inherently embedded into the college experience:

Sometimes, you have to use that dreaded two-letter word. You have to say no.

The course catalog is chocked full of classes that peak my interest, but it isn’t possible to fit them all into my few semesters here, even if I overload every semester. Some of those classes will have to wait until grad school or until I’m an elderly, retired lady sitting in on classes to keep my mind sharp. And that’s okay.

The club fair features dozens of booths advertising engaging groups that will broaden my social circles and extend my comfort zone, but some of those hobbies will have to be post-college pastimes, or perhaps they’ll never litter the “special interests” section of my resume. And that’s okay.

My various friends plan various Friday night adventures that would all prove memorable and scrapbook worthy, but there’s only one of me and only so many weekends in a semester. And that’s okay.

College isn’t the end-all-be-all we treat it as; rather, college is just the beginning. As human beings, and especially as Christian human beings excited about exploring the world He’s created us for, we are life long learners. We’ll always be taking in new information, honing new skills, and trying new activities. Our curiosity will never be satisfied, and it certainly won’t be satisfied in a four-year span, no matter which remarkable institution claims those four years.

So should we use those four years to grow our curiosity, to take advantage of all the opportunities God lines up, and explore as much as we can? Absolutely. But should we put so much pressure on those four exploratory years that we fill our schedules beyond what we can bear, planning our lives on an hour-by-hour basis, every slot between 8:00am and 2:00am waiting to be filled? Should we commit to so many activities that we can’t give any of them our full attention? Should we fill our time with so many meetings that we neglect spending time being with people we love? or sleeping? or eating?

And most importantly, should we compare our schedules to everyone else’s, basing our worth on whether we’re as busy, as involved, as invested, and ultimately, as stressed out as everyone else? Should playing these comparison games paralyze us, make us fearful that we’re not enough and that we’ll never be able to be enough? Last time I checked, nobody was giving out awards to the most strung-out students, unless you consider high blood pressure and early hair loss rewarding. We’re called to be good stewards of our time, which does not translate into overextending ourselves.

As a freshman, I learned the art and eventual demise of overextension. I just read Hayley’s blog post about her first four weeks here, and I can relate fully. Dordt is a special place, as Haley so articulately expresses. Initially, I wanted to tap into every outflow of that specialness. I wanted to try it all, and I’m glad I did because, as a current junior, I now better know how God wants me to use my twenty-four hours. Because I’ve previously explored so broadly, I’m now prepared to explore more deeply in the fewer activities I choose to stick with, all alongside the people I’ve been developing deep connections with these past few years.

I’m not advising everyone reading this blog post to eliminate "yes" from their vocabulary. I’m simply echoing wise words spoken to me by older students, words I’ve repeated to friends frequently these last few weeks. In turn, I’m speaking to the majority of us college students, to those of us who have stretched ourselves so thin that we’re failing to live out the second portion of the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Until we take time to care for our own wellbeing, to rest and assure that we’re being filled, we won’t have anything leftover to pour into others or into worthwhile activities that bless others. A little bit of alone time, or a prayer walk, or time with friends, or a nap, or reading a good book for leisure proves biblical.

And it begins by saying no every once in a while, which is okay.

-- Annie