I have been back home from my first year of college for roughly three weeks now, and have (obviously) neglected to post anything until now. A time for confession and some reflection on the future trajectory of this blog will come, but for now, here is the best I can do as a wrap-up reflection on my first year. I apologize if it sounds a bit too polished or refined in an impersonal way; it was for an essay contest after all, though I’ve made a few changes. All the same, I hope you enjoy reading it.
It is amazing what God can do with a mustard seed of time. In the span of two short semesters, the Lord has intercepted my mind and life with a throng of worthwhile ideas and experiences that continue to resound within my being and shape my thoughts. Yet towering above the rest stands one special, ongoing lesson: the beauty of the body of Christ – or more specifically, experiencing the richness hidden within the individuals who make it up, through the intimate vehicle of fellowship.
Even before coming to school, my journey in learning how to know and experience people has been an eventful one. Through the examples of several key influencing people in my life, God taught me the gift of reaching out to others in everyday conversations, and to seek to build friendly relationships with whoever might intercept my path. Because of these dear friends, I developed and cultivated an inclination for what might be called broadcast relationships. I want to know everyone’s name, remember details about people’s lives when they share them, and cast my social net wide enough so that no one is left out. Though I still have ample room to improve, I believe that this skill has served me well in my time thus far at college.
Yet even as God was guiding me through these lessons, He began offering me tastes, little foreshadowings of a greater prize awaiting my pursuit. I witnessed another dear friend whose friendships seemed an entirely different sort of creature from most of my own. This friend excelled in cultivating deep, one-on-one relationships with people; such intimacy felt foreign to my experience, but fascinated me. By this example, I realized many of the friendships I had (rightfully) sought to nurture were more broad than deep, and I soon yearned for deeper friendships. In several of my relationships back home, God indeed granted me a meaningful and satisfying bond, friends with whom I shared an intimate connection that pushed far below the mere surface – and by God’s grace, those treasured relationships have endured even while I’ve been away living the college life. Yet my longing for richer, one-on-one relationships has been fulfilled most substantially since my arrival at school. I did not go seeking for them, but God poured them into my lap; and by their presence in my life, even those relationships back home have seemed to take on a new and fuller tenor.
Intimacy is both to know and be known. The friendships God has blessed me with since going to my college have penetrated new reaches of intimacy and fellowship because of both of these factors. Vulnerability has been my teacher lately; under her tutelage, I have gradually been able to lower somewhat the walls that have always naturally surrounded the depths of my interior. Yet perhaps the greatest reason I have been able to do so is that others have opened their hearts to me. Since joining in the life of my school, I have known more than ever before the depth of a human soul.
In this area, senior testimonies have been an especially meaningful pedagogue to me, especially this past spring. A great number of seniors – many of whom, tragically, I’ve only been able to forge at best a hasty connection with – have laid bare their souls from that pulpit for the entire campus to witness, some with trembling voices and tears. I walked away from many of those encounters with my world altered; you cannot see everything the same way after being made aware of such an unseen wealth of struggle, growth, pain, victory, failure, healing, loss, and redemption. After one particularly poignant testimony of deeply internalized pain and the salve of fellowship that ultimately brought healing, I later returned to my room and penned a few reflections. I called each individual soul a cistern, “fairly narrow yet nearly bottomless,” its dark waters obscuring its secrets to all but the most perceiving eye, and only ever known in its fullness by the Lord who created it. “We are deeper than we ourselves know,” I wrote to myself.
Yet these semesters have been more than merely hearing accounts of the soul; I have also been given the opportunity to venture beneath the surface of some of my fellow cisterns. Almost by accident, this past semester I began the practice of informally, almost spontaneously meeting with my dear brothers and sisters one-on-one over a simple meal in the dining hall. Sometimes there was a particular item to be discussed, sometimes no reason to meet existed but fellowship. Several times, I built up my expectations unrealistically to anticipate some kind of life-changing conversation, and disappointed myself when I merely found another soul like mine across the table from me. Yet the simple act of fellowship over food, a type of breaking bread together, helped me to both open my soul to others, and to plunge beneath the mask of the abyss into the hearts of my brothers and sisters in Christ (though only with their permission). As of now, I have only barely been underwater; yet I have gone deeper than ever before.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful ways I have experienced the richness of fellowship with my brothers and sisters at school has been in our partnerships in meaningful things. The forms have varied, but I have been a blessed participant in several endeavors where we have been able to encourage one another in worthwhile ways, because of our engagement alongside one another in truly worthy pursuits. With Christ ultimately as our center of cohesion and the common object of our fellowship, our interactions have ever brought me to new heights of life and growth in Him. By the examples of my brothers and sisters, by their humility born of profound wisdom and maturity in the Spirit, my steps have often been checked from the prideful pitfall of Satan, and been washed instead with the grace of the Most High. To date, I have found no greater expression of the beauty and grace bestowed through the body of Christ than this.
As a product of a society and culture where the almighty appearance can spell the fate of a job interview or advertised product’s success, where the individual is emphasized over the community, and where many have all but forgotten the immortal soul of man, I can easily forget that the Lord placed a piece of Himself within each human being, in His breath and image. I can easily neglect the beauty of His Bride, the body of many parts sustained by His goodness and manifesting His grace. Yet by that very grace, I have come away with a far greater understanding of the depth of each person made by Him, and the overwhelming privilege I possess of intimate fellowship with my siblings in Christ.
If these lessons, though merely begun and received by an unsatisfactory pupil, are what God can give me a glimpse of in my first year of college alone, I stand in eager expectation for what He will do with my future time. May I learn to seek Him all the more as He continues to teach me with my brothers and sisters in Him.
By His grace,