‘Tis Time, My Friend, ‘Tis Time

‘Tis time, my friend, ‘tis time! For rest the heart is aching-

The first line of my favorite Pushkin poem has faithfully rhythmed in my mind day after day with increasing intensity as graduation has drawn near. I have savored these words like a piece of butterscotch candy through every brain-aching, burnt-out final paper. I have heard their hopeful serenade urging me forward to repeat and re-repeat the trekking down a familiar hill then across the geese-laden quad. Far into the woods, running in lonely, free New England beauty, they have ignited my veins with hopeful endurance.

‘Tis time, my friend, ‘tis time. Four years of deeper and wider and knowing more and knowing less, to knowing that it is finally time. Time to frame the pictures and pack the suitcases and let restful release and the ache of goodbye intermingle.

Days follow days in flight…

Time is not a big enough concept to hold the soul, the nuances of reality past, present, and future. Yet time is a sort of accelerator, propelling us to movement when change is the thing needed to keep us alive and purposefully being. These college days were and still are and will be, but with our human constraints we find it comforting to find closure in squishing them in a box labeled “past.”

Days follow days in flight, and every day is taking

Fragments of being, while together you and I

Make plans to live. Look, all is dust, and we shall die.

Time would take fragments of being if we were mortal, which we are so often inclined to believe. But we are not subjects to the tyrant of time. Four years and questions of “what’s next” and “where are you going” are actually the least relevant of utterances to a people not slaves to the rigid ticking of the clock. We make plans to live, plans to live, always planning, gathering, yearning for the next thing beyond and better, but all green grass turns to dust so it is better to fix our eyes on the stars than on the ground. It is better to not move forward into the future but into the Creator.

‘Tis time, my friend, ‘tis time. Tomorrow, we graduate. We are confident and full of fear, joying in newness while feeling the acute pinch of a backward look. We are elaborately equipped and nakedly unprepared. We are messy paradoxes made in the image of a paradoxical, faithful, untamed God, who beckons us to life with him and through him. Let us press this “now” hard into open palms. ‘Tis time, my friend, ‘tis time.”

Excerpt from “Tis Time,” by Alexander Pushkin

‘Tis time, my friend, ‘tis time! For rest the heart is aching;
Days follow days in flight, and every day is taking
Fragments of being, while together you and I
Make plans to live. Look, all is dust, and we shall die.

Пора, мой друг, пора! покоя сердце просит —
Летят за днями дни, и каждый час уносит
Частичку бытия, а мы с тобой вдвоем
Предполагаем жить, и глядь — как раз умрем.

 

Letters to a Striving Daughter

Romans 7:23

But I see another law at work in me, waging war

against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner

 of the law of sin at work within me.

Dear daughter, it wasn’t long ago that I watched you in the kitchen, raspberry mop top framing your distressed face as you strained to sound out the word on the page. You stopped and started a few times, flustered at your shameful failure. “Dad, can you please tape over this!” you pleaded to your earthly father. At four years old, the seeds of sin were already taking root inside you; fear was sprouting in your heart, the fear that you were not, and would never be “good enough.” You, my darling, have been a perfectionist for almost your whole life. This is your signature sin. This is the prominent filthy rag of all your supposed righteousness. It is the vice that makes me weep with compassion when I see your contorted face and hopeless sobs, for your mind is diseased, blind to the truth when the weeds choke your thoughts to death.

Isaiah 30:15a

In repentance and rest is your salvation,

in quietness and trust is your strength.

    

You are miserable because your eyes are on yourself. I was with when you spoke the lies, “I am worthless. I have nothing to offer.” These words snaked into your vulnerable mind as you read the frank comments that the program assistant had typed onto your essays for the Fulbright competition.

“A lot of work needs to be done! Lacks enthusiasm. Too dry. Work on style.” You took each of those comments as a harsh attack when they were merely meant as a push in the right direction. You were so easily wounded because your eyes were not on me; your ambitions and self-concept and self-esteem and every self-ish word in the English language was usurping the throne in your heart. You had quite the puppet government going, when you said with your lips that I was your King but muted my commands and affections for those of a crass, snorting dictator. My darling, you are miserable because this is not the purpose for which I made you. It does not matter if you are inarticulate or unintelligent in comparison to other human beings; such adjectives are not the measure of a man or a woman. In fact, I don’t measure you like you believe I do. You try so hard to tiptoe around failure, fearing that if you fail by the standards of “perfection,” I will be ashamed of you, embarrassed to have a daughter with such lazy tendencies. You expect with each “mistake” that I will angrily disown you.

I do not measure you like this. I know that you are dust. I know that you cannot exist without me. I accept you not because of an A on the paper or good reviews at work or your unfailing promptness; I accept you because my son was tortured and died in your place, and for me to ignore his passion in order to focus on your failings would be to spit on his sacrifice. I don’t call you to be “the best” at what you do. I don’t call you to please others. No, I call you to rest and to repent of trying to be me.

Isaiah 55:2

Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

 Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

and you will delight in the richest of fare.

 

 I know that for the past four years, you have lived in a place where you feel like a recovering alcoholic working at a bar. I know that the evaluative nature of your culture’s concept of school feels like iron chains to someone with your tendencies. When you have to write a paper, depression paralyzes you, because you are convinced that you have to prove yourself again. To your professors. To your peers. To yourself. It is from those around you that you draw your strength; I ache, for you are trying to breathe through a straw when to look to me would allow you to gulp full, fresh breaths. Sometimes their words are enough to sustain you, but like a ration in wartime, it is never enough; the scratchy lump of bread only whets your appetite. If you receive an A on the paper and a contemplative nod from the professor, then you go to bed superficially happy. If, though, you received the dreaded B or blank stare, you question that anything you have ever done is worthwhile. And this, daughter, is the wrong question to ask. Nothing that you do will ever be worthwhile unless it is done in me and through me and for me.

Psalm 127:1a

Unless the Lord builds the house,

the builders labor in vain.

 

On a sleepless night a few months ago, a disturbing caricature formed in your mind. You imagined that you were attending a woman’s funeral, a P.h.D who had achieved immense success. One by one, her boss, colleagues, and son came up to speak about her. Her boss was first. He looked mournfully out into the sea of onlookers.

“She had such a beautiful resume.” He choked up, but continued. “I-I just will never forget the article she wrote on hierarchical binary opposition in Freudian linguistics.” He began to sob and quickly took his seat. Her coworker was next.

“She never missed a day of work in her life.” The coworker sniffled.  “She was prompt, gregarious, and exceeded all our expectations as a member of the organization.” She blew her nose into a white handkerchief and left the podium. Finally, the deceased woman’s son, a young man in his twenties, walked to the microphone.

“My mother was…” his voice trailed off and he bit his lip, a hint of fire in his dark eyes. “My mother was responsible.” His voice held a bitter bite. “My mother was an enthusiastic member of her firm and did everything in her power to contribute to the success of the company. She graduated with honors in her Ph.D. program, received a prestigious research grant to India, and she is venerated as one of the top researchers in America. That, my friends, was my mother.” The son violently shoved the microphone back in its place and stormed out the back door of the funeral home.

This twisted vignette disturbed you, disgusted you, chilled you, all because it revealed how utterly selfish and evil you could become if you give in to the anxious itch to control your destiny and be your own god.

Genesis 11: 4a, 6-7

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city,

with a tower that reaches to the heavens,

so that we may make a name for ourselves…

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same

 language they have begun to do this,

 then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

Come, let us go down and confuse their language

 so they will not understand each other.”

 

When you begin to feel your eyes being darkened by the deadlines and responsibilities and self-interest, remember my revelation to you last summer, when I showed you the view from outside the prison of perfectionism. I put your nothingness in perspective in the same way I humbled the proud builders of the tower of Babel, those who strove to make their name known through proud words and relentless work ethic.

I freed you from the fate of idolaters through confusing your language. When you arrived in Russia last summer for your language program, I placed you in the advanced class, where I knew you would be the poorest speaker in your group of six. You stuttered your way through every conversation lesson, feeling like a kindergartener trying to converse with astrophysicists. To your surprise, though, this failure did not shatter your life. In fact, your “failure” freed you to speak boldly and to laugh at your mistakes and to admit that you were human. This was no real failure though; it was a victory, the shattering of your pride by the inability to even feign this slave-driving life-sucker that you call “perfection.” No, my daughter, this messy summer where you failed and leaned on me and laughed and admitted you were human, this was much closer to my standard of perfection than your small and stingy one.

Deuteronomy 33:12

Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him,

for he shields him all day long,

and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.

 

My child, this is ultimately the crux of the matter: you will not stop grabbing at control like a starving prisoner grabs for bread until you believe in my unconditional love. My definition of the word “beloved” is foreign to you, for you have always thought that to receive love, you had to earn it. You accept the love you think you deserve, which is why you tense up and refuse my embrace. You are right in one thing: you don’t deserve my love. Yet in spite of this, I love you. Without condition. You don’t yet see the beauty in this, because you want to be worthy of love. You hate the idea of someone loving you because he has to; you picture a disgruntled husband wishing he could escape the ties that bind but begrudgingly sticking with the wife because of a piece of paper he signed. I am not like that husband. I do not love you for your utilitarian value. So rest in my, my daughter, and do nothing for a while. Do not achieve. Do not strive. Do not write. You are not beloved because of these things. You are simply beloved.

To My Friends Beginning their Gordon Journey

Dear Friends,

First, I want to thank you all for the encouragement and inspiration you have been to me this semester. I have been refreshed by your humility, shown through the vulnerability of not pretending that you have it all together. I have been challenged by your sincere desire to fight complacency and to be agents of God’s kingdom wherever he calls you. I have been blessed by your insights into the paradoxes of the Christian life, and I feel honored that you invited me to become a part of your lives this semester.

As I write you this post, I want you to know that I don’t pretend that I have things figured out. I have had many ups and downs in my four years at Gordon, and I am far from a perfect example. With that being said though, I have seen God’s hand in my life throughout my time at Gordon, chiseling away at all the parts of me that don’t resemble him, beginning that long process of becoming like Christ that will only be completed when this life is over. I hope that the things I share will be encouraging to you as you continue to pursue Christ and his kingdom during your time at Gordon and beyond.

Loneliness

As I shared with you in class, fear of loneliness has always been one of my most crippling fears, and as a result of this fear, I have often succumbed to the sin of idolizing relationships. When I first arrived at Gordon, I was terrified that I would not make friends. As a person with a shyer, quiet personality, the prospect of “putting myself out there” clashed with who I was. For a while, I strove to make friends according to the extroverted paradigm, all the while feeling drained, fake, and…still friendless. But in spite of myself, God provided for me, showing me that he is the giver of all good gifts. One rainy day while feeling especially lonely, I “coincidentally” ran into a girl from my Old Testament class while walking down the hill. Long story short, she became one of my closest and most faithful friends here at Gordon. I am convinced that our meeting was not a coincidence, but a gift from God. As I reflect on meeting my friend Christa, it reminds me that it is idolatry to treat relationships as my primary source of strength. So often, I tend to focus on the gift of relationships rather than on the Giver. At the core, my fear of loneliness stems from the desire for intimacy, to be known completely, and this can never be found in humans. I still struggle with the fear of loneliness, but I have learned now that this desire points to a longing for God, not for humans. God will provide for you relationally, but if you are not feeling fulfilled in your friendships, remember that no matter how deep and intimate your relationships are, they will never fill that desire for intimacy that God has placed in the heart of every man and woman.

The Myth of “The Best Four Years of Your Life!”

You’ve probably heard a variation of this myth. I believed it up until this year. “Enjoy your time in college…when you get into the real world, things will be a whole lot harder!” “College was the best four years of my life…what I wouldn’t give to go back…” These statements, given by well-meaning family members and friends, are meant to be encouragements as they send you off to this magical world called college, but in reality, they place unrealistic expectations on this short period of time. As most of you have probably already realized, college can be a great place, but it can also be very difficult. What your family members didn’t tell you when they nostalgically looked back on their college days was that life is life wherever you go, and that in reality, for many people, college is the four hardest years of their lives. I came to Gordon with expectations of fairy tale proportions: college was going to be a perpetual hang-out session with friends, going on late night adventures full of carefree abandon. And it’s true, I have had many late night adventures, but I have also had late night panic attacks and early morning fears. Academics are a job, like anything else, and just because you don’t “go to work” at a nine to five job doesn’t make the stresses you go through as a student any less legitimate. So this is what I have learned: 1. College, like any other part of life, has its ups and downs, pluses and minuses. But God is faithful in every situation we find ourselves in and will work through the hard things to show us who he is and make us more like him. 2. Life does not end after college! (At least I hope notJ) I think that the assertion that college is “the best four years of your life” implies that life after college is boring drudgery. I completely disagree with this. Responsibilities may change with graduation (as I soon will find out), but as I step out into the “real world” as a college grad, I am more excited than ever about fulfilling the calling God has for my life.

The Wonderful Place Called the Counseling Center

I am a huge fan of the counseling center, and it is such an underutilized resource at Gordon! I have been so blessed by the godly wisdom of my counselor as she has helped me process my struggles and give me sound counsel on how to grow through trials. I would highly recommend that if you are going through a struggle, whether big or small, that you sign up to talk with a counselor.

Gordon: Your Overcommitted Life!

I don’t know if they still use this motto on admissions advertisements, but when I was applying, the mantra was “Your Adventurous Life.” Sometimes I think that “Your Overcommitted Life” would be a better description of Gordon, but this probably wouldn’t attract as many students. I have found that at a small, competitive school like Gordon, it is easy to get caught up in the “compare and overcommit game.” Now don’t get me wrong, there are so many amazing opportunities to serve and get involved at our lovely little school on the North Shore, but with the load of activities that the average Gordon students takes on, I am surprised that more students don’t completely burn out. I have found that when I overcommit myself, I am not able to enjoy or do a good job at anything I do. As an example, I was an RA last year and also the leader of the Linguistics club. Now some people might be able to handle both responsibilities well, but I found that although I loved Linguistics, I dreaded planning for club meetings because I didn’t feel I had the time to do a good job at it. This is where not comparing yourself to others comes in. Like I said, some people might be able to take on two responsibilities like this, but I am just not wired this way. After doing one 18 credit semester, I realized that it was hard for me to handle, and since then, I have only done 16 and 14 credit semesters. For me the key is being able to fully invest your heart and time into whatever you do, and this might mean cutting back on a lot of great activities.

God’s Presence versus His Plan

I want to close by sharing with you something Professor Barthold (a philosophy prof.) shared at an event I recently attended. She talked about how it was important to seek God’s presence over his plan. This has always been a struggle for me, a planner who likes control a little too much. In seeking only God’s “plan” for us, in the sense of “what job should I take?” and “what should I do with my life” completely misses the relationship between us and God that is meant to be the centerpiece of the Christian life. I was challenged by Dr. Barthold’s words to reframe my view of the future. The future’s many possibilities and my lack of control in what happens to me somehow doesn’t seem so scary when I know that I can have the constant assurance of God’s presence with me.

So friends, these thoughts only scratch the surface of all that God has been teaching me through these past four years at Gordon, and I am confident that he is working in each of your lives in the same way even if you can’t see it right now. If you have any specific questions you would like me to answer that I didn’t address, please leave me a comment and I will do my best to answer. As you continue on your journey with Christ, be encouraged that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. So wherever you are, joyful or in despair, peaceful or struggling with confusion, know that he who has called you loves you with an everlasting love and is faithful to finish the beautiful work of his grace that he has begun in you.

In Christ,

Hope

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Photo Credit: Janine Sirois