The Best Years of Our Life

While I struggle to finish a term paper this week, my friend JP Baker has graciously accepted my request to write an article for this blog. Insightful as always, he has elected to share some thoughts on the college experience:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, 

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, 

it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, 

it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, 

it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, 
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, 
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way
— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“If these aren’t the best years of your life, you’re doing something wrong.”
         Yesterday a man told me this with all the authority of a prophet. He is joined, I think, with many of the noisiest authorities of our generation. What an age of foolishness. 
         He was talking about college — these precious 4 years of undergraduate study. If he were more sensitive, he might have realized it was the last thing I’d want to hear as I closed in on the last remaining month of my season of Light. 
         All Darkness from here on, boys. Here’s to hoping I’ve stored up enough pleasant memories in these four years to keep me warm until I flicker out.
         Maybe I’m doing something wrong. There’s no telling yet, but I can’t shake the feeling that there are far better things ahead in life. And far worse.

Society makes it easy to think in superlatives. 
         The present is real; it is felt; it is constantly tossing us to and fro. From the crest of each experience, we survey the rest — the past spread out behind us, the future rolling endlessly into the fog ahead. I am the captain of my ship. I am the master of my soul.
         Can you not feel the weighty significance of our present age? It shouts at me every morning, though I refuse to participate. 
Are not our generations the crucial ones? For we have changed the world. Are not our heightened times the important ones? ... Are we not especially significant because our century is? ... No, we are not and it is not. These times of ours are ordinary times, a slice of life like any other.
- Annie Dillard, For the Time Being

Our concept of life and our concept of spiritual life have wholly diverged. 
         Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” 
         What did he mean - life? Concerts and road trips? All-night movie marathons and Netflix binges? Free travel in Europe? Rough night? Hiking, canoeing, fishing? Hashtags and Instagrams? There’s something of an abundance here, but I’m not sure I’d call it life.
         Oddly enough, while we consider these 4 years the “best of our life,” we often consider them the least valuable to God. We put our spiritual life on hold until we enter the real world again. 
         To most college students, this is our time — dedication comes later. God’s narrative touches here, surely, but only with a sense of prologue. We feel that we must be called out of our place. We must be called out of our time.
         But there is no such thing as our time.

Society makes it easy to think in superlatives.
         The present is real; it is felt; it is constantly tossing us to and fro. From the trough of each experience, we cower beneath the rest — the past crashing backwards with a roaring regret, the future an opaque, looming wall of uncertainty. 
         Can anyone help this generation? Can we ever get back to the way things were before?
There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. … In fact, the absolute is available to everyone in every age. There was never a more holy age than ours, and never a less. … In any instant you may avail yourself of the power to love your enemies; to accept failure, slander, or the grief of loss; or to endure torture.
- Annie Dillard, For the Time Being

I worry that my rhetoric has obscured my message. Listen to this:
         Christians often lose perspective, at levels both historical and personal. We write God out of our stories, and we begin to imagine ourselves the authors. 
         All time is God’s time.

For a college freshman taking that first step onto campus: 
         This place is not just a training ground. God’s work starts here — in fact, started long ago. Do not chase after “life” like it is something out there to be absorbed through an endless string of experiences. Life is in you, and the abundant life is abundantly creative, not abundantly consumptive.

For a college senior taking that first step beyond campus: 
         These were not the best years of your life. Not by God’s standards — perhaps not even by the world’s. If you found college to be a rather mediocre experience, it’s not because you were doing something wrong. Similarly, if you found college to be fulfilling — overflowing with the kind of life Christ meant us to have — you need not fear the other side of graduation. Your kind will find such abundance in every corner of experience, both the crests and the troughs. Share and enjoy.