In high school, people often told me that you go to high school to learn, and then you go to college to unlearn everything you learned in high school. Over the past two years, I have found that to be true. Some of the things I have (un)learned about life since graduating high school have completely turned my world upside-down. Though at many times during this process of “world rearrangement” I felt like I was going to fall off, life looks far sweeter from this new perspective than it ever did before. I would like to share with you some of the things I have had to unlearned since high-school. I don’t expect many people to read this whole note (it’s ridiculously long!). That’s okay- it’s more for me than it is for you. Still, if you have the time, go ahead and skim through it. Perhaps you will unlearn something too.
—“You must be an extrovert to succeed in life”– I am an introvert, and extremely so. There is no middle ground for me. I love people, but they are to my energy as Count Dracula is to Mina Harker’s blood (a reference for those of us who still care about REAL vampires). I am terrible at small talk, I am uncomfortable speaking in large groups, and it takes a long time for me to make new friends. In high school, if you were an introvert, you acted like an extrovert. I know I did it. And in acting like an extrovert, I learned that pretending to be something you’re not is a miserable experience. Now, I know I am an introvert, and I know its alright to act like one. I can decline invitations to sleep-overs. I can retreat to my room for several hours after a big party. I can give new people at church a friendly smile instead of scaring them away by trying to start an awkward conversation. It’s okay. That’s who I am (thanks, Freshman Foundations).
—“My ‘purpose’ in the body of Christ”– The Bible clearly tells us that if the whole body were an eye, we’d be one screwed up, freaky looking body (I think that’s in the Message somewhere) and that it’s okay to play a different part than someone else. Still, when I was in high school there seemed to be a trend in Baptist churches: Making teenagers feel guilty until they commit to become a preacher/preacher’s wife. I “committed” to the whole “preacher’s wife” thing after many a guilt-laden message at camp, or a particularly convincing alter call at a missions conference. It never felt right though. My desires, talents, and abilities just didn’t seem to mesh with that decision. Now, I understand that not all desires are godly, and that the Holy Spirit can empower us to do things we don’t have the ability to do on our own. However, I have learned since high school that when we are seeking Christ, our desires will often stem from a desire to glorify him, and that God wants us to use the talents He’s given us in specific ways for His purpose. So, if I do end up married to a preacher, that’s cool. But I can still have my own purpose in life. I don’t know exactly what that purpose is yet, but I now know that I don’t have to be a preacher’s wife in order to glorify God with my life.
—“Dating is a miserable experience”– My relationships (both romantic and platonic) with men in high school were less than stellar, and the book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (not that the mindset behind it was bad, but for me it only provided confusion) was extremely popular when I was growing up. I left high school with some very negative ideas about dating the opposite sex. By the time I had started dating Aaron for the first time the summer after graduation, I had already sabotaged the relationship in my mind, which led to a break up a few months later. I spent the next six months after that break up in prayer that God would remove my attraction and growing love for this man as if it were a sin. God, being the awesome, all-knowing God that He is, instead strengthened that attraction and love, and threw Bible passages like 1 Corinthians 7 at me, as if to say, “Hey, this is okay. This is how I made you. Not all men want to hurt you and not all dating relationships have to be sinful or unwise.” Eventually, I gave in and started dating Aaron again, this time allowing God to renew my mind along the way. I’m glad I did. Even though that relationship didn’t work out in the end, I learned a lot from it, and it has helped me to learn that it’s okay to date people that I am attracted to.
—“I am defined by my mistakes”– High school for me was one big identity crisis. I was constantly knocked down by the concept of “What you do defines who you are.” I suppose to the world there is some truth in that. However, the truth is, in the crazy, upside-down world of Christianity, it is not about how we live, but who lives in us. I may sin, but, in Christ I am not a sinner. I may cut, but, in Christ I am not a cutter. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 brought me to this conclusion. In this passage, Paul lists several types of sinners (slanderers, adulterers, etc.), and states that these people will not inherit the kingdom of God. He then addresses the church stating, “And that is what some of you were.” I think “were” is the key word. No, the church is not perfect- we still slander, commit adultery, steal, get drunk, etc. But we are not slanderers, adulterers, thieves, or drunkards. We are washed, sanctified, and justified of those sins- past, present, and future. They don’t have to define us. Our identity is Christ.
—“God’s grace and love are conditional”– This is a tough one. It took me years to grasp the concept that “while we were STILL sinners” God demonstrated his love for us, and Christ died for us. High school was a time of considerable insecurity, as I thought that I could (and did) “out-sin” God’s grace. I mistook principles for godly living as conditions for grace. In reality, the reason Paul gives in Romans 6 for not living in sin is that we are already FREE. It’s silly to live like we’re dead when we’re alive, and it’s silly to act like a slave when we’re free. However, regardless of how we act, in Christ we ARE alive, and we ARE free. I knew Jesus as my savior in high school, yes, but I was acting as if I had to be my own savior too. How foolish! It’s not about me: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
—“I am ‘the only one'”– Especially in Christian circles, it seems, there are many things that “everyone is doing, but no one is talking about.” There are issues that Christians struggle with, and because of this “failure to communicate” we each think that we’re the “only one” struggling. We Christians only seem to discuss these issues long enough to condemn them; never long enough to admit we struggle with them to, or discuss how to find freedom.You know the issues: masturbation, self-injury, homosexuality, depression, suicide, porn, abuse, rape, drugs/alcohol, etc. An event that I attended recently called, “Stand Up For You Sisters” was probably the most impacting event in my life to date (outside of salvation). In this event, dozens of women met to discuss the taboo issues mentioned above. We then filled out anonymous surveys listing these issues and were asked to mark which ones we struggled with. Finally, the surveys were collected, shuffled, and then passed out again. Someone read the struggles from the list and we were asked to stand if the survey we were given marked “yes” on that struggles. There was not one struggle where only a few people stood up; many struggles got easily 90% of us off our feet. Looking around the room and seeing how many people were battling the same sins as me was life-changing. I don’t struggle with all of these things, but I do struggle with many. For instance, I grew up thinking that I was a “freak” because I struggled with self-injury. Because I thought I was a “freak,” I hid my struggle from the rest of the world. It was not until I learned that I was not alone that I could begin to confess my sins to others, and in doing so, experience healing.
—“Friends are friends forever.”– I had many friends in high school (probably as a result of trying to be an extrovert). Most were good friends, wonderful people, and we had great times together. However, when I went away to college and most of my friends and I naturally went our separate ways, I thought it was the end of the world. It’s hard growing apart from friends, but it is a normal thing. I still see old friends now and then, I still love them, and I still enjoy their company, but I really only have one friend from high school that I still spend time with on a regular basis. I left for college, made new friends, changed in many ways, and my other friends stayed at home, made new friends, and changed in different ways. That’s okay. That’s normal. That’s life. I have heard that if you end up staying close to with one true friend from high school, you’re lucky. I have my “best friend since we were babies” so I guess eating all those marshmallows out of all those boxes of Lucky Charms paid off.
—“Change is bad”– In high school, where stability is rare, change seems to get a bad reputation. “You’ve changed” was never a compliment during those years, and it was always stated with sadness. In college, however, I have come to realize that the biggest problem is stagnancy; stagnancy is an enemy of growth. The “theme” of our college this past year was “Moving Beyond.” How refreshing it has been to learn how to move beyond! It’s a difficult thing to do, I’ll admit, but God has helped me to move beyond past hurts, to out deep roots of bitterness, to forgive my past failures, and to look toward a bright future, to stick my head out of my comfort zone and to experience the rest of the world. Change is frightening, change is overwhelming, and strange, but change is also necessary, and in most situations, change is good (whether it seems that way at first or not).
I have had to unlearn many other things. I could probably write a book on the whole process, and I still have much to unlearn! Sometimes, old mindsets creep up and hinder the unlearning process. That’s okay though, because if there’s one thing I’ve unlearned out of all of this its the idea that life consists of one-time fixes. It simply doesn’t. It’s a journey, an adventure, and a process of learning and unlearning as we try to become more like Christ.