Each June, my church honors their graduating high school seniors with “Graduation Sunday.” Between weekly announcements and turn-around-and-greet-someone-time, they manage to squeeze in a mini-ceremony, only with caps and gowns excluded. While the graduates march down the aisles, followed by proud parents, we watch video clips of their favorite memories, baby pictures, sage wisdom and aspirations for the future. Switchfoot plays in the background.
This year it really bugged me. Not because it was long (it always is) and not because I didn’t know anyone (I never do), but because those kids had something I find in short supply these days: excitement for the future. Part of me wants to blame their excitement on naiveté and innocence, a false perception of a world that doesn’t exist. That’s the part of me that is completely jealous of those graduates. They have dreams, they have plans and they are brave. I don’t have a clue about anything.
I graduated from college two years ago, moved home, and slipped neatly into a teaching job that September. After a year with the third grade, I transferred to middle school, hoping sixth-graders would hold my attention.
Somewhere in the middle of the winter, going to the dentist became a metaphor for my every day. I hated knowing which square of carpet my feet would be hitting at 10:32am. I was completely stressed out. In the midst of the real world, I had lost all touch with reality.
I have a hard time believing I’m the only one disheartened by life after college, but I sometimes feel like I’m in the minority. At 24 years old, I’m not unlike many of those graduating seniors and very unlike many of my friends. I live at home. Most of my friends are moving away. I’m not pregnant. I’m not engaged. My dad pays my car insurance. I’m applying to college. I’m unemployed.
Yes, I quit the job. For the next four months, I am on good old-fashioned summer vacation. The kind we had when we were little, no strings attached, bare feet included. Except, of course, for that very small and insignificant issue: figuring out what to do next. Like those graduates, I need a plan. But I’ve been beat once at the game, and feel a lot like I’d imagine a divorcee feels about a second marriage. My relationship with life is not altogether steady.
I wish I could wrap this all up by telling you I figured it out. I haven’t. But I have learned four things so far.
Number one: You’re never stuck where you are. When I realized I was unhappy, I let myself make a big life decision, and I left. I’ll be working part-time this winter, but by taking that job I’ll be taking a huge pay cut.
This leads us directly to lesson number two: The ways of God are perfect. I couldn’t take a pay cut like that if I hadn’t lived at home these past two years, socking away my income for downpour days. Had I made the decision to quit teaching before I ever started (and I was pretty close at some points), I would never have been able to pursue some of the things I’m hoping to now, for lack of finances, wisdom and maturity.
And there lies lesson number three: We grow in our struggles. Most of us know this with our heads, but when we know it with our hearts, it makes all the difference. God didn’t use Daniel and Joseph until he had brought them into captivity. My captivity may only have been a classroom, but it’s changing my perspective of freedom.
I was thinking on Graduation Sunday that some of the graduates will end up back at home four, five or six years from now. Their plans will definitely change. And, probably, that’s alright. Since coming home, my relationship with my parents has grown in a whole new way. Rather than the beginning of a long journey, college is more like a test flight. Some of us are ready afterwards; some just need more time.
Lesson number four: Changing plans is not a backwards movement. It’s like being at a stop light surrounded by trucks. If you stop watching them move forward, you’ll stop feeling like you’re rolling back. You’ve just got to keep your eyes on the stoplight, and when it turns green, you go. In the meantime, as Bono sings, you “let it go, uh huh, and fade away …”