Bridging the Gap
In 2012 I decided not to attend one of the small, Midwestern Christian colleges I had always expected to attend. Months earlier I had applied, on a whim, to Princeton University and much to my surprise, I was accepted. I decided to venture off to the East Coast, assuring my family and church community that my faith in Jesus was strong enough to withstand the challenges of the secular university. And I was armed with the truth that God would be with me in my college endeavors. Like most youth group kids, I had internalized Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you hope and a future.
I believed that going to a top-ranked university was proof that God had big plans for me. Armed with the best education, God could use me more effectively in the world. God had plans to give me hope and a future, and that future was bright. So I went to Princeton, joined a campus ministry, found a church, and studied hard.
My job, I thought, was to focus on my studies so that I could be molded into the best, most useful version of myself. College was a time of preparation for the future. I soon found, however, that this mindset affected how I related to the people around me. Thinking that I needed to focus on myself now so that God could use me better later allowed me to make a lot of excuses when it came to being a good friend. Loving my neighbor could wait. God had a plan for me, a mission I needed to focus on. God had a different plan and task for my friends. I needed to worry about my mission, and they could worry about theirs. I viewed my time in college and the way I imagined God wanted to use it as an island, a time set apart from the rest of my life and from the rest of the people in my life. My homework, my sleep schedule, my future were the most important things. This time of preparation, even if a little selfish, was necessary for me to really be on mission for God later on.
But I was wrong.
If you know anyone from the South, or if you have taken a foreign language, you have probably had some form of conversation regarding the unfortunate fact that the English language lacks a unique word for the second person plural. We often resort to saying “you guys” or “y’all” to make it clear when we are speaking to multiple people because simply saying “you” is ambiguous. And ambiguous language allows people to misinterpret what we say. And the ambiguity of the English language allowed me to misinterpret what God says in Jeremiah.
Both the context and the grammar of Jeremiah 29:11 are clear. God is speaking to the Israelites living in exile in Babylon, assuring them that he has not forgotten that they are his chosen people. The verse could be translated like this:
For I know the plans I have for Y’ALL, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give Y’ALL a hope and a future.
God chose Israel to be the people through whom he would bring blessing to the world. Though they were in exile for the moment, God promises that he has plans for them, to bring them out of exile and restore their hope. And God fulfills these promises. The story of Israel continues for out of Israel comes Jesus, the king who conquers death and ignites God’s plan to redeem and renew all things. From that story comes our hope and the future that lies ahead of us.
Now, I know that I as an individual have a role to play in all of this. I know that God can and will use me. But I also know that the means by which God is making all things new is through his Son and through his people. Paul famously uses the metaphor of the body to describe how God’s people ought to relate in 1 Corinthians 12. So, my part in the story is to be part of the body of Christ, recognizing that my role may be unique but it is connected to everyone else’s. A detached limb doesn’t do the body much good. We are called to serve one another and love one another sacrificially at all times. We can’t put that on hold, pretending that walking in faithful obedience is something that can wait. God wants to redeem and renew in all areas of my life, in all seasons of my life. It’s all happening here and now!
I graduated in May of 2016, and now I am interning with the Novum Institute for a few months. I am excited about the work Novum is doing because I think the “isolated island” view of college I had is what a lot of people feel, whether as college students, parents, or professionals. We believe that God has a plan for us, but we don’t quite know how the story of what we do from day to day fits in with the greater story of God’s redemption of the world. Like I did, we let certain aspects or certain seasons of our lives remain disconnected from the overarching story. Sometimes it’s because we have a warped view of what it means to be on mission for God, like I did. Sometimes its because we really just can’t figure out how what we learn at church fits in with what we do Monday to Friday.
Novum is helping to bridge this gap. Part of knowing how our stories fit in to God’s mission for the world is understanding God’s story in the first place. That involves both looking at the Bible anew, but also contextualizing its story for different seasons of life (like college) or different aspects of life (like work). Then we can allow God’s story to saturate our own stories, fully encompassing and overwhelming them so that no area and no moment feels disconnected from the reality that God is making all things new.
I will only be in this position for a few months, and I could view this season as transitional, as a time of learning and waiting until the next thing God has for me. But I won’t make that mistake again. Because I know that this short chapter of the story of my life matters, even in the grand narrative of the whole world. It matters not just as a stepping stone for some great thing God may or may not do with me in the future, but as a time and place in which redemption and renewal can occur.