As I sit in this calm before the figurative storm (a literal storm is actually going on right now), I’m thinking about how weird and emotionally taxing college ministry is. It’s a lot of fun and it’s fulfilling, so the weight of it doesn’t always get felt. Tonight I feel a mixed soup of emotions. It’s like this storm that’s taking place outside my house. The rain is a welcome relief to the hot, dry ground, but the wind is blowing the expensive yard furniture all over the place and the lightning is causing the lights in the house to flicker and creating damage just down the road. I hate the damage, but I’ll take it all in order to see my plants grow.
There’s excitement to see returning students again. By the end of the summer, the anticipation to see most of those familiar faces becomes palpable. I can’t wait to hear about their summer adventures, triumphs, and even disappointments. It’s always neat to see how they’re growing and changing.
But with that excitement comes some sadness. The problem with students is that most of them graduate, and we do want them to graduate. It gets more sad when they stay too long, but nonetheless, it hurts a little when a student that you’ve seen each year for the past several years doesn’t come back from summer. You invest so much time and energy in relationships with them just to have them leave when it gets good.
Then there’s the anticipation and wonder of who I’ll meet this year. Which new student is going to become one with whom I grow close? With which one has God arranged a meeting? Which new future friends will I meet this year? How many people will show up that I won’t be able to imagine my life without? It often takes me by surprise. In this environment, there’s very much the sentiment of “strangers are just friends before you meet them.”
And then there’s the knowing that this year will bring happiness and pain. There are always students that God places on my heart, that are instantaneously loved, and I can’t explain why except to think that the Father must be loving them through me. There will be that student who has so much pain that she can’t even speak of it, but it shows in the way that she carries herself and deep behind her eyes. I’ll try to tell her that life doesn’t have to be this way, but she won’t believe me, so in the quiet moments alone I’ll cry for her and beg God to go to those places in the crevices of her soul that no other human can go. There will be the student who wants to do better in life, but just can’t seem to get there. I’ll give him Biblical advice that he won’t follow and I’ll watch him sink further than he was before. There will be some that I will struggle to like, while there will be others that flat out won’t like me. Yet there will be triumphs. There will be As on exams, hard fought and won internships, students who come to know Jesus and others who rediscover Him. There will be students who figure out what God wants to do with their lives. Opportunities for adventure will abound. Late night trips to Waffle House and 3 AM conversations. Tears of joy and tears of loss. Self denial and self discovery. With every step and every day comes something new with these students, and I get to be a part of it.
It’s not all good and it’s not all bad. It’s life, and living life helps me to understand what Jesus was talking about in the Beatitudes when He told us that we were blessed for being poor, blessed for mourning and grieving, blessed for denying our rights and being merciful, blessed when things don’t go our way. It’s in these times, in what seems to be these backwards blessings, that we find our deepest relationships. We find out what people are made of, who will be by our side. Sometimes it’s disappointing, but it can also be pleasantly surprising. The bitter times make the sweet ones that much sweeter.
Looking down this week, I’m bracing myself with arms wide open for what’s to come. I hate the pain, despise the pain even, but know that there’s joy that comes with it. There’s a God who will work through it, a peace that passes all understanding, and a hope that endures all things. Bring on the rain.