Curt’s first year out of college was not going well.
His two-year commitment to Teach for America brought him to a failing school in Baltimore, where he knew no one. He left his family and friends behind to start what became an impossible job; it took everything in him to try to control his chaotic classroom of fifth-graders, and many days he did not succeed.
Beyond the daily struggle to get up and teach another day, Curt faced adversity on a number of other fronts: He struggled to find friends, the woman he’d been seeing broke off communication, his grandfather passed away and his dad was diagnosed with throat cancer.
This was not what Curt pictured for his first year out of college.
In college everyone knew Curt in his campus fellowship group and in any given week he had multiple opportunities to hang out with people who encouraged his faith. He loved his major and student teaching placement.
He dreamed of the ways he could use his degree to make a difference in the lives of inner-city kids. But Curt quickly discovered that “they weren’t going to make a major motion picture about [his] life teaching students.”
Teaching was not Hollywood, and most days he was ready to throw in the towel.
Your transition out of college may be nothing like Curt’s, but none of us get through life without facing hardship. We cannot change this reality, but we can choose how we will deal with current hardships or with past adversities that may resurface during the vulnerable time of being in transition.
We practice perseverance in the many moments that precede the trial itself—by training our heart and choosing postures that will help us endure with virtue. Here are a few:
If we want to suffer well, we need grit or fortitude.
We need to be tough in mind and spirit so we can bear challenges with courage. As Christians, practicing fortitude often means that we acknowledge our weakness and helplessness before God and we allow him to be our strength. The ability to endure ultimately comes from him (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Despite the rough year, Curt kept his teaching commitment. Things did not miraculously improve in that year or even in the next. Curt felt trapped, alone and in despair much of those years.
His faith in Christ sustained him, and in the end he found out what he was made of. He’s not sure how he mustered the strength, but he chose to read a chapter of the Bible each day. He also had two or three key verses for every day of the week, trusting that if he read the “Monday verses” 52 times in a year he’d eventually memorize and live them.
These spiritual disciplines were not a magic pill, but they were a crucial part of practicing fortitude in the face of adversity.
Though Curt would never choose to repeat those first couple of years out of college, the experience became a significant part of his story, building character in him and growing his trust in God.
Our grit is tested in difficulties, but it’s built in the day to day. When we decide to remain calm in traffic or not complain when we pick the longest line at the grocery store, we practice virtue. These little moments prepare our hearts for handling hard times.
It’s hard to reach out to others when we’re not doing well ourselves. This challenge is often compounded right after college when we’re still trying to build community or reestablish ourselves in a former one. We’re often taught that needing others signifies weakness; we don’t want to burden others with our stuff, and we may not want to be bothered by someone else’s.
But in the midst of adversity we need others most—people who will carry us and place us before Jesus when we don’t have strength on our own (Mark 2:1-12). How do we do this in a transitional time? It may mean reaching out to a former mentor or college friend until we’ve established new relationships.
It may require being vulnerable with new people God has placed in our path. It may mean being there for someone else, even though we’re dealing with our own struggles. Reaching out may involve all of these.
Every one of us is waiting for something—for a better job, for a relationship, for a conflict to resolve, for an answer to our deepest prayer, for the kingdom to fully come on earth as it is in heaven. If all of life is a waiting time, let’s dedicate ourselves to waiting well—to practicing patience, giving thanks and accepting that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8).
In an effort to wait better, my friend Cheryl gave up complaining for Lent (the 40 days before Easter) once. Each time she complained, she added an extra day to her fast. By the time she reached Easter, she joked that she probably needed to extend her commitment until Christmas! Though an imperfect attempt, this practice began to build a heart reflex within her.
How would our waiting look different if we chose to fast from complaining—even for a day, a week or 40 days? Or how might our hearts change if we replaced our grumbling with gratitude? What if we took on a challenge as author Ann Voskamp did, making a list of 1,000 gifts, finding countless ordinary things to be thankful for even in the midst of hardship?
While there’s no silver bullet solution for escaping the rough waters we often encounter after college, we can equip ourselves to stay afloat within them. We can get grit, choose community and wait well.
Most importantly, we can fix our eyes on Jesus—the One who calms the storm (Mark 4:35-41). He is our greatest help and ultimate hope during every difficult time.
Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt taken from After College by Erica Young Reitz. Copyright (c) 2016 by Erica Young Reitz. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426.