I could come back here and say that I was off in the past half year or so doing something incredibly time consuming and important, but that’d just be a lie. More likely than not, I was blowing things up in Mechwarrior Online or killing things in Skyrim. A boy’s got to save the world and kill dragons and stuff, you know? But in all honesty, a little more than six months ago saw another mixed blessing in my bag. To rewind a little bit further, once upon a time I was a small group leader in college. It was during that year that I ultimately made some choices that led to my disqualification from teaching at the time. I remember the pain I caused my small group leaders, my close friend who was also the college team leader, my discipler, my pastor and all those who were involved. In that moment I swore that should I ever be restored to a teaching position, I’d never allow myself to go down that road again.
A little more than six months ago, I did exactly just that. I don’t want to turn this post into a retelling of THAT particular story; you can come ask me yourself if you want to hear the gist of what happened, but I can and do want to say this: it was definitely a mixed blessing. On one hand, I’d done it again. I’d wounded my church, my testimony, myself, my fellowship with other believers, my pastor and discipler — the list goes on. I’d made a royal mess of things and as with every great tragedy, I ended up asking myself why it happened, why the cycle had repeated itself when I was so sure that it wouldn’t. The answer took a lot of honest soul searching and a willingness to come clean to God and be honest about what was going on in my own heart. I wanted answers to questions that I’d been asking for a long time and balm for hurts and heartaches years passed, the baggage of which was still weighing on me.
In the silence of my room, in my apartment, I raged; against myself, against God and circumstance, I would have done anything in the weeks after that decision to undo time and do it right the second time around. Why was I so susceptible to temptation? Why didn’t I have peace, or joy, when all of scripture promised just that? Why was i so filled with anger and sadness? I wanted to undo reality and remake my life and circumstances as I saw fit. For a moment, I wondered if life would have been easier if I were not a Christian. If I were unshackled by this burdensome list of do’s and do not’s, if I were unburdened by God’s commandments, I could sin with impunity and see every pleasure this world had to offer and I could do so without the troubles of a bothered spirit and an aggravated Holy Spirit to convict me of sin. I will not lie to you; there were moments when I bitterly thought it’d be more fun to have never come to faith.
In truth, after many days and weeks of sober thought, I realized that I knew of God, but that it didn’t really equate to knowing God. I knew the lay of Scripture passably well. I knew how to read and interpret and apply good hermeneutics to the Word. I knew what catch phrases to say when praying, what words and emotions to use to evoke those all-important nods of affirmation when praying in a group setting. I knew the words to the songs sung on Fridays and Sundays. But you know what? It was rare for me to be moved by Scripture. It was rare for me to even want to pray in a group setting. It downright pissed me off to see other brothers and sisters lift up their hands and sing with their eyes closed because I thought it was pretentious and fake on some days and obnoxiously optimistic on other days.
In the days leading up to the last 7 months, I felt alone, miserable, and unwanted as has been my wont throughout life. I struggled to reconcile the truth that in myself I am nothing, but that God has given me worth. My question was: so can I feel good about myself or not?! I remembered the truth that I have done and can do nothing to deserve God’s love. Yet instead of seeing that love as a gift, I instead let it fester in my heart that it was God’s divine chore to love me. I complained a lot about being single and thought often that I could be happy — for a little while — if I had a girlfriend. I knew that it would not bring lasting joy, but God help me if I didn’t crave it as a brief respite from my pervasive sense of loneliness. It drove me mad to see others in relationships, it made me jealous to see friends start get married or even start families. I just…wanted to be loved. More than that, I wanted to feel like I was loved.
It was in those moments that I boiled away all the haze and obfuscation that was hiding the real problem. I had made an idol of love, of giving and receiving, and of marriage. I wanted to be in love more than I wanted God’s promises. But how could this even be the case? Wasn’t I loved? I had so many examples of people loving me, my friends, my family, my pastor and his family. My God Himself says so often in scripture that He loves us. Us. The human race. And then it hit me: I had always accepted that somehow, for some reason God could find it in Himself to love the human race, broken, miserable and fallen as we are. What I could never truly say with confidence was that God loved me, broken miserable and fallen as I am. It is one thing to say that God loves people. It is another to say that God loves me. I asked in prayer if Christ would have died if I were the only one who needed it in this world. And then for the first time in so long, I felt that the answer was “yes.” All at once, I remember feeling loved like I hadn’t ever been before. I cried, I laughed, I consumed it like food for a starving man and it was as if I had finally found something that I forgot I was looking for.
No more duty. No more dogged, slavish obedience absent pleasure or joy or happiness. My God loves me and I believe that it is all that matters. From His love for me comes my love for Him and my love for others. Yet it would not do to leave the other questions unanswered. Why was I still single? Would I always be such? Would I die alone, never having felt what it was like to be a husband, a father, a grandfather? As it is, God did not give me simple yes’s and no’s. Instead, a different question floated to the top, “Is my love worth more than these things?” Were they? Was this brief taste of understanding and feeling of even a smidge of God’s love worth being single forever if that was indeed the plan for my life? Is my God good? Is His plan for me good?
Hitherto I’d always said, “yes” out of reflex. The Bible tells me so. So does my pastor. So do my holy, married friends. It felt wrong to say “no”, but more because I didn’t want to hear the lecture of those whose circumstances were so far removed from the uncertainty and anxiety I felt at being single. It was like being a poor man lectured by wealthy friends about the virtues and blessings of poverty.
So instead of simple answers, God did something else; he brought me on a journey thought by thought. Why did the thought of perpetual singleness frighten me so? I feared it because it suggested to me that I was not worth dating and/or marrying. I feared it because I didn’t want to die alone and forgotten somewhere. I feared it because I didn’t want to be pitied later in life for my solitude. I feared it because I didn’t want to have relatives harp at me for time immemorial about how I haven’t found a girlfriend yet. I feared it because it felt like I was falling behind my friends and peers in the progression of life. I feared it because pretty much every outlet of media these days tells us how great sex is. Even Christian preachers tell us how great and what a blessing marital sex is. I feared it because I thought if I died single, I’d be missing out on an experience that seemed so natural to want and to seek. I feared it because I remembered how great it felt even to trick myself into thinking some girl I loved loved me back and that I might never know what that felt like again.
And one by one, God brought me through to a place of greater understanding. I don’t have all the answers; not knowing and seeking are part of growing up too. A lot of the fears, like the fear of somehow “falling behind” or of not being worth it or of being forgotten, or being harped at, or missing out all revolve around the idea that somehow being in a relationship, getting married and having kids is “right” and to not be in a relationship or to never get married and have a family is “unfortunate”. Throughout life, how many times have we — especially Asian Americans — heard that life should be about going to school and getting good grades so that you can get into a good college so you can get a good job, then find a wife/husband and have kids. I’ll spare you the counting: all the freaking time. Grandma’s pester us as we get older about finding our true loves. Mom’s and Dad’s make it the forbidden fruit throughout our teens, only to beg us to give them grand children as they get older.
I ask us as Christians: when did we ever establish godly, God-seeking, God-honoring singleness as an EQUAL blessing to getting married. How often we’ve heard it in college and beyond! How often did we hear it as children? When did we ever put more emphasis on being faithful, growing Christians regardless of our Facebook relationship status? Who ever heard, “grow up, grow strong, and be happy.” It was almost a given that a well-paying job and a family were the keys to happiness. If you were single and a female, you were a hag or destined to be an old maid. If you were a dude and single, you were a deadbeat or somehow a degenerate. I feel much, much worse for women in this situation who have been bludgeoned repeatedly by the idea that they must become wives and mothers in order to have a deeply fulfilling life. Men have been incepted repeatedly with the idea that lifelong bachelorhood is sad and unsatisfying.
So I ask us this instead: Is our God good? And is His plan for us good? You need not answer right away. It is a serious question that needs to be thought through carefully and, more importantly, honestly. If I don’t get what I want, if I never get it, what does that imply about God and His plan? I have come to believe that it implies nothing at all about God and His plan, but rather it implies something about the desire itself: it is not good for me to have. If I believe that God is good and that He indeed works all things for the good of those who love Him, if I believe that He has a plan for me, to prosper me and not to harm me, then I must believe that this thing is not good for me to have. Make no mistake, it does not imply that the desire is invalid or sinful to bear. You should not feel guilty, as I have often felt guilty, for wanting the good gifts of God. My encouragement is to taste and see that the Lord is good! Better, even than a husband or a wife’s love, better even than children of our own get, better than marriage and all its pleasures and trials. But in order to get there, we must believe that God is good and His plan for us is good.
Because my God has shown me how much he loves me, Alex, as an individual, as a person, as a son, I can say that it is so, that the taste of God’s love experienced on that day and all the days since, have been more fulfilling than any earthly relationship or job or circumstance. My circumstances have not changed. I have been changed. I still want to be in a relationship, I still want to be married and I still seek them, but I know in my heart that should I never be given these things, I will not have been cheated or gypped in this life. The life I live ought to be for this great God that I say I serve. This joy, this peace, born of knowing and accepting grace and love cannot be forgotten and my God will not forget me. If I live a life devoted to being as faithful and glorifying to God as possible, how could I die unremembered? How could I die alone without being deeply loved by my brothers and sisters, natural and Christ-born alike? If I could be like Paul in his pursuit of Christ, who could tell me that I did not run the race with perseverance? Who could say that I fell behind? Christ died for my sins, mine along with all others who submit to Him as Lord, so how could I be unlovable or “not worth it”?
And so it is with you, single Christian. I AM nothing, but Christ is everything and chose to love me. He alone is all the worth I need. I am loved by Christ, and so are you. You are not unwanted, unloved or alone. You are not broken or misshapen or otherwise unlovable or undesirable. You are not an aberration. You are not abnormal for your singleness. An entire world of possibilities lies ahead of you, a world of satisfaction and joy and peace,doing what we were meant to do: worship and serve Him. You are not wrong for wanting someone to love and be loved by. You are not wrong for wanting families of your own. You are free to seek them and are right to do so. Only…do not let them become your god. Do not let what is a good gift and a good desire sour to poison your joy and your peace. God is good. His plan is good. You are in good hands, howsoever they should find you.
Verily, verily I say unto you, he that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
Welcome back! I haven’t had anything worth talking about so it’s time to go and recycle old content. Just in case it always seems like I’m mad about church or even mad at the church, I’ll just say that people get mad about the things they care about. Those things that demand our emotional investment generally get our emotional investment. When we see things going well, improving, people growing, then it’s a time for joy, for rejoicing. When we see things hit the fan and spray the room, we get mad because we care enough to have wanted that not to happen and more importantly because we want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
So what do you do when things are going up and down at the same time? How is that even possible? Well it is. The church is a complex machine because it’s made up of people who are complex machines. So what can we do but give thanks and be proud of the things that are going up, and be pissed and ready to change the things that are going down…or staying the same. And that’s really where I want to start: things staying the same.
Now, nearly seven years ago, I was a freshman in College. I was rougher, more inflammatory, more eager to offend, over all harsher in my language and rougher in my discourse in every conceivable fashion. I became somewhat known for my rough edges throughout college and by God’s grace, the Spirit’s work, and the patience of my disciplers and close friends, a lot of those rough edges have somewhat smoothed out. But you know what? The things that used to make me mad, the things that I used to rant and rave about — those things which put me in fell moods never changed. Steel is steel whether or not it’s been honed into a fine edge or if it remains a rough, ill-tempered cudgel. To see it continue on in our church even after the church split, even after we took so much time to painstakingly hammer out the vision for the church and how we were going to do things differently, some things — negative things — remained.
Now the disclaimer is that it’s not all bad. Not in the slightest and in fact there is so much more to be thankful for than to be angry about and for that we should all be rejoicing. Our little church has strolled right along, watching God answer prayers about bringing freshman to our doors, souls getting saved, finances being handled. People prayed for children and now they seem to be popping up from every which corner. I believe our teaching has been very strong, our pastor provides a strong example for us, and there is a general sense of closeness and camaraderie at church. In fact there is so much that is right and good that we can easily fall into a lull with the things that can, in fact, improve.
So enough already; what am I talking about? The same thing that I’ve always talked about. The truth, the truths that lay beneath the clever and comfortable and the familiar structures that seem to inevitably sprout up in church and go unchallenged for the sake of tradition. How soon that tradition becomes dogma which becomes legalism. It takes so many forms that it took a long time to nail down exactly what I wanted to lambaste but I think I’ve finally come to it. Complacency. And not just any complacency, but a complacency with the prejudices, weaknesses, and insecurities that every single one of us have and nobody wants to talk about for fear of making people uncomfortable.
I’ll give us an example. What would you think if your Pastor suddenly showed up to preach wearing a somewhat threadbare and holey t-shirt, ripped jean shorts, and flip flops to preach on Sunday? Now some of you may not care, to which I say, fantastic, skip this part and reconvene in the next example. But if the thought of Pastor Chris showing up in less-than-stellar apparel does give you pause, ask yourself why? Why does it bother you and why do you find it distracting for him to be dressed shabbily? I have asked many people and it generally all comes down to this: “well, people have certain expectations of a pastor and how they dress” or “we want to make it easier for the people who will be distracted if I dress poorly” etc. And that makes sense. We want to provide a more hospitable environment for those of us who care about that sort of thing. BUT, does it really matter what a pastor wears if it’s not immodest? I mean let’s face it, there’s a universe of difference between showing up in a t-shirt and jean shorts and showing up in say, a speedo. Honestly, I don’t think it should matter what a pastor chooses to wear on Sunday. I really don’t, much less do I think that it should trump, as it often does, what the man has to say. I find us being so preoccupied with a tiny departure from the expected and being distracted to the point where we can’t even really LISTEN to what is being said. So yes, I think it comes to a question of, “is it right? No. But shouldn’t we be looking out for our weaker brothers?” Yes, I agree that we should definitely take them into consideration when choosing our wardrobes. BUT — and this is where the complacency comes in — how often do we just LEAVE IT AT THAT? “That’s just how it is, Alex. You’ll just have to get used to it.” So yes, we’ve admitted that we must watch out for our weaker brethren because they are caught up in the superficial, but in leaving the question alone and never pushing for more, don’t we just leave them to continue in their superficiality? Why are we okay with letting them languish in the mire of being hung up on the external and the petty, and not encourage them to strive for a place where it’s the man’s words and not his clothes that define his preaching? Just because it is what IS, does that mean that we should allow it to continue to be and never try to be better than that? Is what is always dominant over what can be?
Another example. Say I have a friend of the opposite sex and they are in a dating relationship with somebody else. One day she comes up to me and says that she can’t hang out with me anymore because her boyfriend isn’t comfortable with it. In short form, she’s telling me that we have to curb our friendship because her boyfriend is insecure in some way shape or form. Let’s say that for this example, I’m willing to forgo the whole idea that if you’re not married, you’re single and don’t need to submit to him. Okay, assumption locked in. Let’s just say that it’s your conviction and your desire to put his needs and feelings first. For that, I commend you. That is definitely a loving and gracious thing to do and will be ever more important should she end up marrying the guy. She’ll no doubt be well-equipped to put their marriage first, and I’m saying this without the least bit of sarcasm. So she curbs our friendship for the sake of her boyfriend’s insecurity…why do we let him stay in that insecurity? Why not push and encourage him to grow in that area? If we can all agree that insecurity is a weakness, why not prod him and push him to grow in that area? I’m not suggesting that she should tell him to suck it up and flaunt our friendship in his face; that would be counter-productive in the greatest sense. But how often do we see an effort to do more than cater to the crippling weaknesses and discomforts of our brothers and sisters? If this weakness is constantly catered to, constantly indulged and never questioned, never changed, never strengthened, won’t it continue to manifest itself in their life together and in their marriage?
And so even underneath the complacency is a deeper issue. We love our comforts. We love our comfort more than we love each other. We resist that which is alien to us because it makes us uncomfortable. Worse yet, we butcher scripture to hogtie and corral each other into our narrow worldviews. How often the “guard your heart” and “don’t cause your brother to stumble” been abused to mask a belligerent discomfort that has nothing to do with what I do or say threatening your understanding of right doctrine or causing you to fall back into sin? I’ll tell you: too often. We use these catch phrases, these popular “Christian” idioms to shackle each other when all we really want to say is, “you’re not doing it MY way, therefore you must be wrong.” But the problem is, we ARE different. The church is comprised of many parts and many of our parts are alien to us or are otherwise different. Some of us have no problem greeting with hugs, or listening to secular music. Some of us possess personalities not easily understood, that are so out there as to be unrecognizable. And it’s those differences that make people uncomfortable. And its their discomfort that leads them to impose rules that don’t make sense, and it’s that imposition that drives people to the fringes and out of the church.
But how do we grow if we’re not made uncomfortable? If nobody ever challenges the way we think, the way we do things, how do we improve? Isn’t that part of sanctification? To improve? Christ hung out with the scum of the earth and He loved them and many of them repented and believed in Him because of Him. That’s what Christ did. His church seems to want to hang out with itself all the time. It feels as if we’ve taken “in the world but not of the world” to mean that we should cloister ourselves like quasi-monks and nuns and make no moves in the world of the nonbeliever. And how do we reach them if we do not go to them? How do we reach and minister to each other if we don’t go to them. And how can we go to them if all we say is that they must first be like us before we can minister to them? It’s like the Jews demanding that the Gentiles first become Jews via circumcision before they could become Christians. Why the hoops?
If we are always complacent, then we might as well just die. If what we are today is all we’ll ever be, we should just fade from this earth in silence. But if not, if we believe that we can be more than we are today, that we can be better, more loving, more gracious, and still maintain our hate of sin without hating the sinner, shouldn’t we? Why settle for being merely different in our taste of music, in our choice of words, in where we spend our time on Fridays and Sundays? If we can, shouldn’t we be known for being like Christ? To love the Samaritans of our times, to love the lepers of our times, to love the outcasts in our own churches; shouldn’t we want to do this? And if we do, then we must learn to question our discomfort. Some discomfort is born because the thing that irks us is wrong and born from sin. Some discomfort is born because we are sinful. Both discomforts lead to a greater understanding and affirmation of the truth. Question, think, be honest with yourself and we might find that we can be a much more effective church, both to our own and to Christ’s own whom we are charged to find. We must climb as if climbing to the peak, even when there is no mountain top.
If God’s plan for us is the best that there can be, then it should be safe to call it a plan for victory. I have found that many times, victory tastes more like defeat. It’s difficult to take it in stride and keep going. Harder still to fight to believe that, at the moment of disappointment, that such defeats bring us one step closer to victory, to God’s best for us. And it is a fight.
Fight we must, because it is commanded, but not only because it is commanded. I have a hard time thinking of God as more than task master and King. I struggle with the idea that God loves me deeply. Anybody who reads this blog can tell you that I talk about it often. I am trying to think about it correctly, that disappointment has its purpose. It is not on me to put my heart back together; not on me to change my will; not on me to bear better fruit. I but need to bend myself toward the light, and hope that God will do the sowing, the growing, and the reaping.
That is what I’m telling myself. I hope I’m not lying.
Yeah, you know what, I’m going to say it, and God willing this will be a very short post: if somebody’s telling people that so and so trial is very “hard” and really “humbling” and they can say that all with a sincere smile on their face, they’re probably not really struggling. It reminds me that we all like to make our problems bigger than they seem, most of the time so we can inflate ourselves and our reputations for being faithful, stalwart, and “godly” for being able to endure such trying times while maintaining a sharp and pristine smile.
Stop. When Job was undergoing his trial, he did not smile, he did not say, “I am getting screwed…BUT, you know, I’m so grateful for God giving me this trial.” When Christ was about to be crucified, He didn’t laugh about it or make merry toward its regard. He sweat blood and begged His Father that if there was any other way, let it be so. The fact that Christ ended that prayer with, “yet not my will but Yours be done” doesn’t change the intensity of his emotional and mental anguish.
It’s sort of like claiming that a workout was SUPER hard, even though you laughed throughout the whole time. Please. If it were that hard, laughter would be the last thing on your mind. What’s my point? There isn’t one, I just had to let it out that I think it’s annoying and disingenuous and belittles the people around you who suffer in silence because all their mind and heart is put to purpose of fighting through difficult times.
No, I’m not referring to myself.
Who ever knew that keeping a clean apartment could be such a pain in the ass? Seriously, mad props to every housewife and househusband that figured this crap out.
It’s so we can learn to pick ourselves up again, Bruce.
We fall because we are fallen and imperfect and utterly incapable of anything but failure in the long run. But the question is and perhaps has always been: when you fail, what will you do?
Dudes at RGC are grinding it out, learning how to work out and take care of themselves with physical exercise. All masochist glee aside, I love to see them grow not only in physical fortitude, but in mental fortitude, the final hope being that when they can show themselves faithful in as small a thing as a hard work out, they will be more inclined to be faithful in a harder, spiritual thing.
I parrot the words of my coaches and teachers (with far less profanity, I’ll add) when I drill them. It’s only pain. If you don’t like it, just get it done faster. I can’t polish a turd. The goal is to push, to teach them push themselves to the limit, and to find that the limit is more of a glass ceiling. When you reach it, it moves further, and further, always taunting you to greater heights.
I love it, to see them learn it with their bodies, a deeper lesson than if I’d just said it to them. When they first started, they nearly cried at the prospect of doing 200 pushups. They looked at me with sad and bewildered eyes as if they were hoping I’d suddenly turn into Jesus and save them. Well, after complaining and making dumb comments, 200 pushups became 400 and I watched as each and every one of them did it. And they did it. Every one of them cranked out 400. And then, I saw what I wanted to see.
There went off a light in the back of someone’s eye, as he realized, “wait. I didn’t think I could do 200. I did FOUR hundred.” That was the moment I could tell he was already looking to the next unknown to conquer. PASSIVE ASIAN MALE NO LONGER.
But working out is just a small thing. It’s not that hard in the grand scheme of things. It’s with the hope that he who is faithful in a small thing will be faithful in a great thing. If we can love to learn hard work, to love the discipline that God disciplines His beloved children with, then we will grow. We will be made more and more into Christ’s image, in a way that when we look back, it will be with mild disbelief and awe that we have been brought so much further than we’d ever thought was possible.
THAT is why we fall. THAT is why we keep pushing when we fall.
As a lit major and as someone who used to work as an editor/adviser for people trying to get into college and grad school, I’ve had to read and write many essays, and I mean *MANY* essays. Before moving out of my old apartment at Mahaila D Unit, I had a stack of all my writing that I’d done for classes that I barely ever attended. It came up almost to my knees. That being said, it’s that season where people are starting to worry about getting into grad school and such so as it is, lots of people are looking for help with their personal statements. Here are some helpful tips when writing your personal statement.
1. Think about why you want to go to grad school — What I mean is really sit and think about why it is you want to go. Why do you care to spend tens of thousands more dollars for ANOTHER piece of paper covered in letters and numbers that somehow validates your intelligence and education? Underneath the shallow desire for a more substantial paycheck should exist a passion for what you’re pursuing. Perhaps the passion has been somewhat dimmed by reality and by the brutal grind which is academia, but it should BE there. For believers, I recommend sitting for as long as you need to, praying for clarity and discernment to understand your motivation for pursuing additional schooling. Dig deep, remember why you love what you do. If you can tap into that desire, your emotional frame of mind will come across much clearer when you sit down to write.
2. You should be emotionally invested — It’s a personal statement. Personal. You need to be emotionally invested into what you’re writing. Nobody cares about your accomplishments hitherto your application, at least not really. Unless your accomplishments are by and far greater than those of your peers, they aren’t enough to really make you stand out. This is the ONE time in the application process where you can be more than a collection of data points. This is the moment where you transcend your GPA, your GRE, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, OAT, DAT scores and become a real person in the eyes of the admission board. What you write about should be the personal journey chronicling how you got to where you are and where it is you want to go. What challenged you in life? What reality checks did life slap you in the face with? When were you brought low, uplifted, ecstatic, terrified? Tell me about that; I don’t want to hear about who you ARE, not what classes you’ve taken.
3. Save words — Being a long-winded writer, I can understand the difficulty of this third point, but when you have a very limited space (generally 2 pages double spaced) you cannot afford to waste real estate. Every line, every word must be purposeful; it must contribute to the idea in a direct way. If you can’t describe what you felt in two lines, you won’t do it well in 20.
4. Tell a story — They don’t need a list of your course work or extra-curriculars since they can see that for themselves. Your personal statement should be a short story about those things have contributed to your life and character as a human being. As a story it should have a beginning, middle, and end. Try to think of your life and your burgeoning career in those terms. Where did I come from? How did my interest in this subject begin? What great climactic event in life serves as the impetus for this pursuit? Where do I want to go after graduate school? Most importantly, *WHY* do I want to go there?
5. Write it in one go — Nothing is worse than putting down an essay and then coming back hours later to think to yourself, “where was I going with this?” Focus! Get it done in one sitting, when your emotional and mental faculties are going at full tilt, when you have an idea of where it is you’re taking the story. When you’ve hit the zone, don’t leave it until the job is done!
6. Don’t edit right after you write — You need to cool your mind down. If the previous five steps were followed, hopefully you’ve had some moment of catharsis, or at least come close to it. Take a break, have a drink, take a nap. Leave it alone for a day and come back tomorrow to edit it.
7. RELAX — I cannot stress this last one enough. Really, it should be at the top of the list with all the other things that are very important, but here it is, so deal with it. RELAX. When you are tense and freaking out about your deadlines or whatever, a good portion of your brain is spent freaking out about those deadlines. That’s a good portion of your brain NOT WORKING ON CRAFTING YOUR STORY. Stressing out is probably the dumbest thing you can do. It doesn’t help you in any way, takes valuable gray matter out of your garden of resources, and pees in the pool of your ideas. Relax. Seriously, relax. In boxing, if you’re coming under heavy pressure and you freak out, you will drain your own stamina and be slow to defend yourself. Being tense and freaking out will get you knocked out or killed. The boxer who can relax in the pocket, however — he thrives. His mind is clear, his eyes are open and he sees the opportunities for escape or for counter-punching that the tensed boxer does not and CANNOT see. If you relax when you write, you will begin to see the faithfulness of God at work in your life as you begin to see how things have always been in His control, how the path has always been cleared and how you’ve always been provided for up to that point. You will be okay. Repeat after me, “I WILL BE OKAY.” Okay? Okay.
Hope this helps and don’t worry, I’d still love to help you with your personal statements.
I have never liked to run. When I was young, it was hard enough to get me to go run the mile in a decent time. As I got older, the length of the run just kept getting longer and longer. One mile turned into three miles which ended up turning into five miles once, after which I promptly threw off my running shoes and had about six donuts, because EFFFF YOU, Five-Mile-Run! I’ve always been one to work hard in spurts, which is why overall progress in anything I do in life is sort of slow and very wobbly. For examples, please refer to my study habits: I can go through ten weeks of material in two days, but I will fight you to the death if you try to make me spread out ten weeks of work across ten actual weeks.
They say that the spiritual life is not a sprint, but a marathon, in which case I’m pretty much screwed. But am I really? For every two steps forward I feel like I take one step back right afterward and it’s pretty frustrating because as it often is in the middle of a long run, you wonder to yourself, “Have I really gone anywhere?” Fortunately (or hopefully) it is unlike cross country in the sense that you do not run in a long and protracted circle, ending up right where you started. The thing about going two forward and one back, however, is that the trajectory is still going forward at the end. Where you ended up at the end of the spurt may not have been as far as I initially thought, but it’s something. In that, I should be thankful. Talking with a sister in Christ reminded me that salvation and perseverance in the faith in and of itself is not a small miracle, but a great one.
That we should be quickened from death to life is the great miracle of salvation. That we should be held fastened to the Cross by the blood and beauty of Christ is an enduring miracle; it is a sign and wonder to which we can always look and take solace and comfort in the sovereignty of God. Finding comfort in God has always felt just out of grasp, as if someone was always moving the finish line just another step out of my reach. In years past I thought it meant that I could do whatever, live however, and that God, like a divine mommy would pick me up, slap a bandaid on my boo-boo and send me off on my way again. But then I “grew up” and began to think of God as James Earl Jones’ rendition of the stern father from Fences (YouTube it; it is excellent). Certainly God’s not there to like me! I best be manning up and kicking ass all on my own and if I need help, I look to God and His divine bad-assedry and follow suit. The result of that was disastrous: adding the idea of a somewhat vacant and exacting God on top of my already deep sense of loneliness has been a terrifying experience.
Lonely, depressed and (still?!) heartbroken, I was feeling pretty unwanted and hideous. I just wanted to be comforted! But, the race goes on, whether you stop running or you drag yourself forward a step at a time, so I kept moving. Just put one foot in front of the other, breathe, now the put the other foot in front, breathe, just one more step, just…one more step. It was a hollow feeling and it was as if something inside me was screaming for something, for that feeling you get when you’re feeling mauled by life and someone just comes up to you and hugs you. They don’t say a word, just holds you tight. And of course, without being able to find it anywhere or in anyone, it finally just flooded out in prayer, “oh, if you’d just be material for a minute — a moment! — and wrap Your arms around me and tell me You love me; if you could just for a second remind me and let me feel like I am worth something — anything!” I don’t know when was the last time I felt so desperate for anything. I was expecting the night to simply pass without much more than the spiritual vocalization of my desperation, but it did not.
God answered. And He came as both healer and destroyer. As soon as I blurted that out, a single thought dominated my mind: “Ah, should I kill my Son again, so that you may feel loved?” I laid there sort of shocked that not only was there what seemed a clear answer, but also that it came with such haste. For a moment and in a moment, God destroyed the idols of my mind. I felt so foolish, laying there, thinking to myself and to God that somehow a hug from God would be more REAL than the sacrifice of Christ. It was like being slapped in the face and the hand doing the slapping had apparently been winding up for a very long time. Every argument, every complaint or bitterness, all the justification and rightness that I felt for my misery and indignation crumbled. The Destroyer God had come for me and I laid there and watched all my other gods fall on their faces.
It was a brutal wake up call, but it was carried along by an unmistakable undercurrent of divine love and affection. How could I feel unloved when it was for God’s love for this world and God’s love for ME that He gave His one begotten Son so that I might have a chance to to have life and have it in abundance? How could I feel worthless when He who is worth everything gave His life to purchase me from sin and death? Christ has shown His love on the cross. Christ has given me my worth with His own blood. I had chosen to forget and wallow in self-pity and teenage angst, and traded the glorious gospel of Christ for a dream of finding satisfaction in a relationship. It reminded me of what a good friend had shared at flock groups: We are not the protagonist of our own lives. And again it brought me to a sermon we heard last Sunday that exhorted us not to focus on the circumstance, or the problem, but to focus on the Savior.
I write this, maybe with the hope that someone reading will be able to relate, but mostly because this is my two steps forward, and I am preparing for my one step back. I am writing this down so that I have that moment to hold in memory as a reminder of who God is and what God has done. It’s so that I can be reminded that even if I fall on my face, at least I am still moving forward.
Because it IS a marathon, and in the words of Robert Frost, there are still many miles to go before I sleep.
You have always been there. When I didn’t know you, you were there, watching, waiting for the right time — Your time — to make Yourself known to me. I heard about you in church, from the lips of people that weren’t like You at all. I thought I hated You. Then I thought it was because I hated them. You were right there, right there in that room of an apartment ironically located in the namesake of Your holy mountain. When I broke down and fell on my face, You showed me that life was going nowhere really fast. Then You showed me that “nowhere” was smelled a lot like smoke and sulfur.
Why? Why did You have to ruin everything? You just had to butt in and destroy all my lies, all my comfortable constructs where I could play safely play hide and seek with righteousness. But You, how dare You? Why did you have to show me that, yes, in reality I really did hate You, that I’d spent my whole life running from You. Don’t You know that I’m tough? Unbreakable? Unshakable? You and Your holiness — just couldn’t stop Yourself from calling me out, could You. Now I know that I’m a coward. Thanks for nothing.
How dare You. I never wanted You, never wanted anything to do with You. I didn’t want to be counted among the legions of the sanctimonious morons, the brigades of stern-faced old women dealing the crack that we call religion in Your name. Why not give me what I want? Why did you have to give me what I need? Ignorance was bliss!
And then You were there and for the first time, I saw into the past and saw You hanging there. In my mind’s eye, You looked right at me and just wouldn’t stop looking. Don’t look at me like that; I didn’t kill You. I didn’t nail You to that tree…did I? Why wouldn’t You stop staring at me! I never asked for You to die for me, so why pin this on me? And why — why at the end of the day, did I feel my guilt? Something changed.
Why did You love me? Why did You sacrifice Yourself for me, in spite of my hatred for You, my scorn for everything that You prize. Why did You rescue me when I fought so hard to die? You dared. You dared to spit in the face of the devil, and to snatch away the souls of the ones You inexplicably chose. You dared to descend to the ranks of the creation and leave aside god-hood for a body of flesh, flesh ultimately torn from Your back, Your head; flesh parted when the nails drove home through Your wrists.
You dared to reconcile a humanity that, like me, cheered as You died, continuing in ignorance that You won that very day. We thought we’d succeeded! We were so happy to think that we’d killed YOU, ended YOU and the tyranny of righteousness, the slavery to the law and the death that we all wanted so badly.
But the skies went black. The earth shook and the veil between God and man was torn in half. Three days later, there You stood in victory, and down went we on our knees, unknowing of another place where we could dare to stand. We killed You on the cross. You took us with You. We fought You with hatred, with everything that marks us as fallen. You broke us with love and everything that makes You the Great Savior, Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man, Emmanuel, God with us, Author of Salvation, the Alpha and the Omega.
Where can I run to escape You? How could I ascend to defy You? I, who can’t change a single hair on my head; what could I do to thwart You? Can man strive against God with success? I never wanted You; now I want to want nothing but You. I hated You; now my meager affections can barely be called love. I mocked and scorned You; now I am mocked and scorned for You. How dare you love me? How dare I stand here brazen when grace compels me to kneel?
How dare I be silent? How dare I doubt You and question Your goodness? How dare I?
Do not go gentle into that good night, Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight And you, my father, there on the sad height, — Dylan Thomas
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
— Dylan Thomas