624 miles, or 9 hours and 10 minutes. That’s the distance and time it takes me to get from home (Birmingham, AL) to college (Charlottesville, VA). When I chose to go to the University of Virginia in late April of 2015, I was cognizant of these transportation statistics. However, what I failed to realize at the time was the actuality of these statistics. I hadn’t fully grasped what the measurements entailed, but in four months, they would soberly manifest themselves.
From elementary school, all the way up to high school, I was in the same school system. I lived in the same house. I saw pretty much the same people every day, and I loved it. I enjoyed the familiarity of my world. I enjoyed the inside jokes I had with my friends. I enjoyed the comfort of my church and youth group. Even when I went on vacations or mission trips, I enjoyed the company of people I already knew. In truth, I was never alone.
I could have continued down this same path of comfort by going to an in-state school, all of which are meritorious in their own rights, but I didn’t. I opted to go to a school in Virginia.
If you’re wondering why I chose to go to UVA, then don’t worry, you have company. I, myself, also thought those exact words many a time my freshman year (or ‘first-year,’ as UVA students are obligated to say). In high school, I told myself I wanted to go to Virginia because I wanted to escape the confines of the world I detailed above. I told myself I wanted a new and different experience, and that the academic opportunities at Virginia provided me that chance. I told myself I wanted the hard work in high school to be realized in a more tangible way, by going to an out-of-state school.
It’s true they were reasons, but they weren’t all the reasons. There was yet a lurking reason that perhaps I suspected but neglected to investigate. A significant part of me desired a sense of awe from people when I told them I was going to Virginia. I let pride influence my decision. My freshman year, God would work to tear down that pride, so He could restore me again. The “tearing down” part wasn’t without its pain though.
I had underestimated how difficult it would be to go into college without any established friendships, and that made for a turbulent transition. For perhaps the first time in my life, I found myself alone. And while I was alone, my high school classmates and friends from Birmingham appeared quite the opposite on social media (at the time, I failed to understand that maybe they were just projecting that image for the outside world).
In my mind, I was the only one struggling to stay afloat. When I came home for Thanksgiving and Christmas my freshman year, nearly everyone I ran into asked me how college was going. And every time, I adopted a veneer of excitement and told that person everything was fantastic, which, as you know, was far from the truth.
Part of me was cautiously optimistic that the second semester would improve. If you asked me in what form that improvement would come, I’d have said in the form of a fraternity. I was banking on Greek life righting the ship, not God. I wanted to focus on social acceptance before focusing on God, so I shouldn’t have been all too surprised when I didn’t end up in a fraternity. But I was.
In the months that followed me not joining a fraternity, the loneliness burned through me. I isolated myself from everyone. I rejected the help of friends and family. I became frustrated with God. I was careening down a road that offered no solace. At least, that’s what I thought. During this time, I had a friend share with me a particular verse, John 13:7. The HCSB reads, “Jesus answered him, ‘What I’m doing you don’t understand now, but afterward you will know.’”
In this verse, Jesus is responding to Peter as Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Peter was unaware of God’s plan for Jesus, just as I was unaware of God’s plan for myself.
God used that period in my life to highlight the pride and selfishness that was beginning to permeate throughout my life. In my brokenness, He presented me with the loophole out of the situation (and every situation): His Son, Jesus. I had been chasing personal glory when I should have been chasing His glory. Ultimately, our glory is fruitless, and God reminded me during that lonely year that His opinion is the one that counts, not my perception of myself, or others’ perceptions of me.
The lyrics from the song “Who You Are,” by Unspoken, remind me of How God pulled me up from the ground that freshman year. This verse in particular stands out to remind me,
“You can never fall too hard,
So fast, so far
That you can’t get back
When you’re lost”
Psalm 139 tells us that God is everywhere and that we cannot escape His presence. As time passes in college, I have found comfort, peace, and joy in that fact.
I’ll end with a bit from the BBC show, Sherlock. In one of the episodes, Sherlock Holmes is saved by another character. He responds afterward saying, “In saving my life, she conferred a value on it. It is a currency I do not know how to spend.” We should be similarly overwhelmed by God’s love, and the value He has placed on our lives in choosing to save us. We should allow ourselves to draw near to Him, because pursuing anything else only leads to a sign reading, “Dead End.”