|ear church family:
I graduated from college yesterday. And it already feels different. It’s hard to say whether different is good or bad—probably a little of both. I mean, sure, I’m excited to be able to make money working instead of paying money to work. But for the first time in 16 years, I’m not an active part of a Christian school family anymore. And honestly, that’s a little scary.
It’s scary because, despite some flaws, Adventist education provided me more than academic growth; it gave me constant opportunities to experience the power of God with a community of like believers. And I never had to search for it.
During my four years at Union College there was always something going on: Tuesday chapels, Friday vespers, a full day of Sabbath programs and outreach, dorm worship, hall worship. And if all the signs, announcements, and e-mails didn’t remind me, a right-on-cue text from one of my 200 best friends was bound to make sure I didn’t miss a moment.
Then, of course, there were the impromptu late-night talks back in the dorm, random prayer gatherings around campus, and devotions before almost every class. I can’t adequately describe what it all meant. But all you’d have to do is see the person I was when I started, and now, four years later, look again to see the meaning encapsulated in my life.
Speaking of four years later, it’s funny how much of a production graduation weekend is. All the fanfare, gold-encrusted programs, and stately words of soaring admiration gave away the fact that this was kind of a big deal. Then the handshakes, hugs, cards, checks, and congrats took me as a personal prisoner of the moment.
But when it’s over, it’s over. Yesterday couldn’t feel any further away.
By the time you read this I’ll be living in California. I’ve never been there and I don’t know anybody. But when you graduate from college, you go where the job is (I know, I’m preaching to the choir).
I’m excited about my new opportunity. But somehow I doubt I’ll be reminded to attend Wednesday night prayer meeting by random signs, announcements, and e-mails. And I don’t think many random prayer sessions break out in the streets of Bakersfield. As for late night talks in the dorm, well, dorms (not to mention late nights) are a thing of the past.
And I guess that’s where the fear comes in. The fear that because I shook the college president’s hand and have a diploma hanging in my office, people will think I have it all figured out. The fear that my church will think I have it all figured out.
After years of structured programming and spiritual spoon-feeding, I’m the boss of my schedule now. Sleeping until noon on Saturday sounds pretty good after getting up at 6:00 a.m. every day. And what if I go to church? Will anyone notice I’m new and invite me over for lunch? Will people stop and ask me how I’m doing? I mean, really ask me how I’m doing and not accept cop-outs like “fine” and “good” as adequate answers? Will they take time to get to know me so that I’ll be brave enough not to give such repetitious replies?
I made it through school, but am I strong enough to take my exodus straight to the promised land instead of wandering around the desert? I’ve seen countless friends, rock-solid in their faith, fall away after leaving the safety of Adventist institutions of higher education. Where was the church for them?
I don’t know where I’ll be going to church, or who I’ll meet when I get there. I don’t know if my struggles will be conscious or more like some kind of spiritual cruise control. I just hope that if I slip, someone will be paying enough attention to catch me. I admit it: I need you; we need you.
So don’t let my new suit and flashy tie fool you into thinking I’ve got it all figured out. Those are just graduation gifts from my parents.
Jimmy Phillips, a recent graduate of Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, is now part of the workforce in Bakersfield, California.