Staring at my 12th-grade class schedule, with all its AP classes and impressive electives like economics and sociology, I wondered how I was going to survive the year.
A hefty workload was nothing new to me, but high school was just about over,
and I wanted a chance to slow down and enjoy it.
I had always focused on getting good grades. Maybe it started in preschool
when I got check-plusses for learning my colors. Maybe always being a year
younger than my classmates made me want to excel. Or maybe when my parents
started expecting me to do well, I didn't want to disappoint them. Whatever
the reason, I dutifully memorized what I was taught so I could succeed
laterjunior high would prepare me for high school, high school for a good
college, college for a high-paying job.
But during my last year in high school, I started thinking about these impressive
subjects I'd signed up for. Would I really need calculus, for instance?
Would it help me in college or my job? I was planning to become a journalist,
and I didn't think I'd be writing too much about big math equations.
So, I figured, there was no reason for me to take math in college. I dropped
the difficult class and replaced it with my first-ever study hall.
Instead of trying to do well in every class, I started appreciating only
the ones that seemed valuable to me as a writer. Later, when it came time
to look at colleges, I wondered if I should escape boring subjects entirely
by attending a journalism school. My best friend was going to a one-year
broadcasting school to prepare for a career in radio. I was tempted to follow
suit and skip all that "well-rounded education" nonsense.
Still, a four-year college sounded like a lot more fun than a one-year
professional school. And even if the general-education courses would be a
pain, I decided the social life at a Christian liberal arts college would
be worth it. I figured I could speed through my gen-ed classes and then enjoy
Into the trap
My freshman year at college was a whirlwind of changes as I learned to live
without Mom and Dad, tried to get used to the cafeteria food, puzzled over
finding all my classrooms without looking clueless, and worked on making
new friends. In the midst of so many adjustments, my gen-ed classes at least
were familiar. I signed up for economics and sociology, figuring my experience
in high school would help me coast through the classes with minimal effort.
In both of these classes, I barely listened to the lectures and zipped through
my homework. I memorized only the parts of the books that would be useful
for the tests. With those study habits, I forgot what I'd learned the
minute I handed in each exam. I was wolfing down my gen-ed classes like the
cafeteria food I swallowed without really tasting.
One class I did enjoy was Freshman Experience, in which our group would
sit in a circle and just talk about our new life at college. I now realize
the class was designed to combat the typical freshman trap I had fallen
intotreating coursework like something to get through, putting the absolute
minimum effort into a class instead of really thinking about it.
As part of Freshman Experience, the professor introduced our class to the
idea that all our academic experiences were searches for truth in the world
around us. And every truth we learned about the physical world or the human
race would give us insight into our relationship with God, who created everything
we study. Saint Augustine (one of the many old guys whose work I read at
college) put it this way: "Wherever we taste the truth, God is there."
Since writing, art and literature interested me, I first began to "taste
the truth" in these classes. The creativity I was able to put into my writing
and art showed that I truly was made in the image of a creative God. Learning
to understand literature of different cultures and eras gave me insight into
the Bible, a very ancient and richly cultured book itself.
I had always wanted to serve God as a writer, but I started to see that my
career would also teach me a lot about him. But it would be another year
before I would understand that all of my college courseseven ones I
wasn't naturally interested in at allcould reveal God to me.
A real history lesson
Sophomore year, I began to feel guilty about slacking off in my gen-ed classes.
Counting up all my required course hours, I figured out that in my four years
of college, I would spend more than one year, total, taking classes in subjects
I didn't like. Given the huge price tag of a college education, just
scraping by in all those classes seemed like an awfully big waste of money.
So when I entered my History of Civilization class, I was looking for a way
to make the information useful to me. I remembered that my older brother
had majored in history, and he thought and talked about God all the time.
There must be something of God in history, I realized, if it appealed to
my brother. Maybe my major wasn't the only one that could help me understand
God better. So I started the class by asking God to help me see him in the
Lists of names and dates and wars didn't seem all that fascinating to
me, but eventually my searching uncovered an insight. By looking at human
history and the Bible side-by-side, I could see how God had been influencing
society all along.
Old Testament laws and experiences prepared people for Jesus. New Testament
ideas laid the foundation for the church, which in turn shaped the values
of Western society. Our modern concepts of fair trials, marriage by consent
and the value of human life flow directly from God's directions for
ancient people. When I looked at history this way and saw God on every page,
I finally felt my time spent in class was worthwhile.
Finding God everywhere
It took a little more work to find God in other subjects, and it didn't
necessarily make the memorization (or the tests) any easier. But having a
purpose in the classroom made it a lot easier to pay attention. I spent astronomy
class marveling at God's ordered universe. In my physical education
classes, I started to really appreciate the amazing body God built for me.
My most difficult hurdle was French class. In my intro-level courses, I was
subjected to endless exercises in vocabulary and verb tenses and everything
else boring. If I had any hope of becoming fluent in French, it might have
seemed worth it. But I'd been taking the language for three years, counting
high school, and something about the way my professor shuddered when I tried
to speak in French made me think I had little chance of ever mastering the
Then one day I remembered that the whole reason God created languages, according
to Genesis 11, was to humble the cocky builders of the Tower of Babel. Certainly,
French was a humbling experience for me. But finding out my limitations was
helping me grow. I realized that French class was doing the job God wanted
it toI was quickly learning to be realistic about my abilities, to continue
despite difficulty, and to rely on God when things were just too hard for
God's work in my life often doesn't make sense to me while it's
happening, but it becomes clear later. I'd be lying if I said that once
I got a handle on the purpose of liberal arts education, I suddenly loved
every lecture and term paper. But it's true that without some concept
of why I was studying so many different things, I would have missed out on
all that God wanted to show me.
Even with a first-class college education, I don't have an incredibly
high-paying job. So if God hadn't changed my mind about the worth of
an education, I might have concluded that I'd wasted four years of my
life (and a lot of money) at school. But I've realized my education
taught me how to live, not just hold a job, and I'm so glad I chose
a liberal arts school.
Now that college has ended, I still look for God in my everyday life. When
I'm watching movies, reading books, talking with friends, working late
or serving at church, I try to see God in action. I'm not sure what
kind of grades I'm getting, but I'm enjoying the class.