"College, should you go?" is not a question that conveniently lends itself to a simple “yes or no” answer. Truthfully, I doubted my ability to coherently address this issue when my own experience seemed so convoluted. It wasn’t any easier 21 years ago as I struggled to ascertain God's will in answering the question for myself. Looking back, I can see His hand guiding me through each decision but nothing seemed very obvious back then. The trees look a lot bigger from the middle of the forest. In the grander scheme of things, I think the real question is less about the "yea" or "nay" of college and more about determining what the Lord wants you to be doing with your life. It’s difficult to know what path to take or when you’ve arrived if you don’t have a reasonable idea of where you’re going to begin with. As I indicated before, none of us can really storyboard our entire lives in one lump sum but I think we can project pretty effectively in a 10 to 15 year timeframe. Let’s spend a little time talking about setting the course of our lives.
If you are a Christian believer, your vocational decisions must be planted in the Lord’s wisdom and guidance. Psalm 37:5 – “Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass”. Also consider Proverbs 16:3 – “Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established” and Proverbs 24:27 – “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house”. Though a substantial part of your life, not to be chosen lightly, your vocation isn't "everything". Nor does it solely define who and what you are. I’m trying to transcend your “job” because the job is only part of the equation. The two focal questions here are “What has the Lord called me to do with the time He has given me? And “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” These general questions serve as a framework in which to consider the more specific questions. It's one thing to be a bus driver, a doctor, an accountant or a stay-at-home mother (more on that later) but do you know how what you do fits in with that big picture of why you’re doing it? An articulated vision for your life will help give you a compass and an anchor to hold especially when things get rough or discouraging. It will become a foundation for you to build upon as you begin seeking wisdom on how to prepare for what you are supposed to be doing in your foreseeable future.
Don’t look at these issues merely in terms of what you want out of life or what you think you should do. If you are a Christian believer, your life belongs to the Lord so the question is “What does God think you should do?” Now, what He wants you to do may likely encompass interests and abilities you already have. If your interests and abilities lend themselves to godly purposes, chances are that He put them there and He didn’t put them there to go to waste. If you’re a square peg, God isn’t out to jam you into a round hole. My point here is that you should use the talents He’s given you for His purposes and not your own. Maybe the Lord has something for you that you haven’t even thought of yet. Now, seeking God’s will does not eliminate planning on your part. Prov. 16:9 - A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps. God didn’t tell you not to plan anything or wait to be shouted at from the clouds. His direction becomes evident when you seek His will and make your plans in prayerful expectation of His continued leading. Do note, however, that there are steps involved. The whole point of this exercise is so that you can get moving when the time comes, right?
So okay, you’re looking at some job options. Someone once offered two criteria for choosing a vocation. First, can you glorify God in the job you intend to pursue and secondly, can you provide a worthy service to others? These questions form a threshold to weed out such options as blackjack dealer, bungee-jumping instructor, romance novel author, lounge singer... you get my point. What you do needs to be worthwhile and consistent with your responsibilities as a believer. With those two considerations in mind, you’ll want to identify what interests you and where your talents lie. What you are good at doing? Have you or has anyone else identified anything at which you are particularly gifted? Is there anything about which you are particularly passionate, such as helping sick people, caring for animals, serving the public safety, ministering the Gospel and so on? Do you have a particular dream? Maybe you do, maybe you don't. Maybe you have no clue at this point what you should be doing and if so, maybe these questions might help jump-start the process for you. Bring these possibilities to the Lord as an offering for His use. Then be ready to set your course.
Although I believe that the decision is ultimately yours to make, I don’t think that this is a question to tackle entirely on your own. You will benefit from evenhanded counsel and guidance. If your relationship with your parents is conducive to doing so (and if you’ve had a good home schooling experience, it probably is), I think your next step is to have some good heart-to-heart chats with them. They know you; they care about you and if their motives are correct they will offer guidance without trying to rail you into something that just doesn’t fit you. Now, if you hear, “You’re going to be a doctor because I never got to be one” or “Nonna ‘dat big headed-a college nonsense for-a you. We needa you to worka in the family diner for’da resta you’ life so you take-a over when I-a retire”, you might have some issues. That evenhanded guidance might have to come from friends or relatives who have successfully traveled the path you are about to take. Perhaps your pastor has some words of wisdom for you. Take advantage of whatever good guidance you can get but understand that the ball is in your court. The ideal scenario in my mind is that your parents would be making the decision with you but not for you. I define adulthood as the time in life when you make your own decisions and then accept the responsibility for the results.
I stress the importance of sound, mature, impartial counsel because my own experience in this area was complicated by trying to discern the Lord's guidance through a tornado of conflicting voices, in whose counsel I was supposed to be able to have some confidence. Unfortunately, the Lord tends not to shout when He speaks, which is not always the case with those other voices. Hopefully you don’t find yourself stuck in the middle as I was, trying to make out the music in the midst of the white noise. Who am I supposed to listen to? My parents aren’t of the same mind with one another in terms of following God's will first and foremost for my life. My pastor has an aversion to college education. Can I trust that those who wanted to advise me would do so with the right motivations? Who am I supposed to listen to? Do I follow the lead of others in the church? Do I do what all of my friends from school were doing? Are my own natural desires screaming to be heard? If you’re in that kind of tug-of-war, you need guidance from someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in the outcome of your decision. Thank God that my maternal grandfather (a very successful man but not from the "education is everything" camp) gave me that type of advice. He didn’t tell me what to do or try to corner me into seeing things his way. He gave me ideas to ponder and it really helped.
In the walk of faith, when we come to these crossroads points where we are facing some imminent big ticket life-altering option that feels like it could either establish or derail us, it's easy to get overwhelmed or fearful that we'll make one wrong move and really blow it. We often fear making the wrong choice because it seems like we're missing some crucial piece of data and sometimes that fear stalls us from making a decision. I was genuinely scared that day at UWM in-person registration and really didn't know what I was doing. Maybe I needed some reassurance at that point that my life was not teetering on the brink of being thrown into a tailspin by one wrong move. Maybe you’re reading this now and need the same reassurance. These "big" decisions really tend to break down into a series of smaller decisions which, over the course of time, add up to the whole. In other words, you don't have to have every piece of the puzzle in place or every page of the map at your disposal before you make a move. You don’t have to have everything figured out now if not sooner. So okay, maybe you don't exactly know what you "ultimately" should be doing at this point. Fine. Take it a step at a time and don’t panic. You might start on a course and come to realize that it wasn’t the direction you ultimately want to go. Nothing says that you can’t change that course. People do it all the time. That is not failure, it’s making an adjustment in your course or coming to a new heading, if you will. Understand, however, that you can’t change course if you’re not moving. Sooner or later, you have to take the plunge and be moving toward the next level, whatever that may be. You can’t use “waiting on God’s direction” as an excuse to stay in neutral indefinitely and you can’t use it as a pretext for the fear of making a mistake.
Do some investigation, some contemplation and some self-evaluation. Identify the trusted mentors in your life who have a track record of advising you along the lines of your best interest and avail yourself to their wise counsel. Seek the Lord's wisdom and guidance; get an idea of what direction you should be going. As you’re doing all of these things, the question of whether college fits into the picture will become clearer and you will have an idea ot whether you should be preparing for college or not. In some fields, college is a given. You don't need a degree to drive a delivery truck or be an air traffic controller but nobody is going to want to have their brain tumor removed by a surgeon who took correspondence courses and practiced on rabbits. Some fields demand intensive higher learning. If the course of your life is pointing to one of those fields then college is likely for you. Everything really hinges on the direction you are looking to go. Now, even if you don’t see yourself ending up in a profession that demands an undergraduate or graduate degree, or if you intend to be a stay-at-home mother, I want to make the case that college may be worthy of your consideration in the following installment of this series.