A couple of weeks ago, Belhaven University’s Chattanooga campus experienced its first commencement exercise. Dr. Niel Nielson, president of sister institution Covenant College, gave a challenging exhortation to our graduates to pursue their callings. It was the type of evening that those of us in the field of education live for.
I’m the director of admission at Belhaven’s Chattanooga adult and graduate studies campus; I’m also an adjunct faculty member. Among other things, this means that I get to know our students at the beginning, during, and at the end of their college experience. It’s my role as a teacher, however, that allows me to interact with our students in an up-close-and personal way.
As working adults and college students, their lives, for the most part, have become exercises in calculated chaos. I’m thinking of a single mother who writes a ten-page research paper while putting the kids to bed – with Good Night Moon in one hand and her marketing text in the other. And then there’s a dad who works two jobs to support his family but somehow finds the time to return to school and pursue his college degree. Ask him why, he’ll tell you that he does it for his family…to be an example for his kids as well as to increase his income. I see students struggle with family members’ illnesses, the loss of jobs, and many other types of personal struggles too numerous to name. As a teacher, I’m also privileged to experience the joys of the adult college experience – getting to know people in their diversity, learning to work together on a project, sharing in their “I can do this” moments.
At this year’s graduation, I spoke to a young lady who had started her journey toward a college degree several years ago. I can remember the day that she came to our campus to talk about returning to school. There were a series of starts and stops, and, to be honest, I wondered if she would make it. But there she was…a smile, a hug, a thank you, a college degree. Graduation – I love it.
Why do adults return to school to earn their college degrees? In the field of adult education, this is a well researched question. There are a lot of answers, but the way I see it, the foundational answer is found somewhere in the process of “take and give.” Here’s what I mean…
In a previous post, I referred to Jesus’ story about the rich fool and his disciples’ reaction to it (Luke 12). It appears to me that this story pushed Jesus’ followers way outside their comfort zones. The problem was that the rich man used the fruits of his success to ensure an easy and care-free life. The lesson for his disciples (and us) was that they should not take comfort in their plans for personal security; rather, they should trust God for everything – even for things like food and clothing. Predictability and security were no longer to be part of life’s strategic plan. Rather, they were things to be taken by God and replaced with something much better.
To be more specific, Jesus had taken away his follower’s need to find security in material things and replaced it with security that is only found in his kingdom…”Do not fear little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32, NKJV). The principle here is that Jesus takes from us before he gives to us. Think about it. Before anything worthy of the kingdom takes place in our lives, Jesus has to take away those things that will ultimately hinder experiencing his kingdom…a process of take and give.
For our students who would call themselves Christ-followers, they will tell you that their return to college represents a divine calling. As they pursue their callings into the classroom, they find that many of life’s activities have been taken – sacrifices made – in order that they may experience the joys of God’s provision during the process of earning their degrees. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but our students will tell you that it is a very rewarding process. After all, there’s freedom in knowing that God will meet our needs – right down to what we eat and wear. However, the “knowing” comes only as a result of God’s taking – a trial exchanged for a kingdom …sacrifice exchanged for, in the case of our students, graduation.
As I spoke with my just graduated applicant/student/friend, it was obvious that she learned this lesson. Perhaps something as wonderful as graduation is a taste of kingdom victory – a reward for trusting God totally and submitting to his process of “take and give.”