When you start college, you hold all of these expectations. You might think you don’t, but you do. You have expectations for your classes, your major, your professors, your friends and your life. I can’t say exactly where these expectations come from. If I had to guess, I’d say they come from a little Mason jar inside your heart, where you’ve come to store all the ideas, plans and dreams you’ve developed over the years. By the time you first set foot on campus, the Mason jar is overflowing with excitement.

But the Mason jar isn’t practical. At that point, you’ve put college on a pedestal, and there’s nowhere to go but down. As your college experience continues, your expectations take a hit. People you trust let you down. Homesickness gnaws at your stomach. Your major just keeps getting more difficult. They say things get bad before they get better, and that saying applies to college as well. Eventually you realize what your dad meant when he said, “Don’t grow up too fast, kid. There’s no going back.”

As life somehow manages to pour out the contents of your little Mason jar and stomp all over them with the heavy treads of anguish and hurt, you cry a little. OK, maybe you cry a lot. God is working all things for good, but it’s hard to see that at first. You call your parents and your close friends, and you tell them how it all sucks and how you just want to go home. Suddenly, college doesn’t seem all that great, and you’re convinced that 90% of your problems would disappear if you didn’t come back next semester. You tell your closest confidant about this potential answer to your problems.

“You know that’s not the answer,” they say. “This is just life. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s bad; you’re just growing up.”

You’re not just sad though; you’re also angry. You’re angry because you don’t know why it has to be this hard, and you’re angry because your confidant is right. Running away is not the answer in this case, and you know it. So you do what you can, and you lower your head as you push through day after day.

Slowly but surely, you start filling up that empty Mason jar again. But this time, you’re not filling it up with faulty expectations; you’re filling it up with all the good things you find around you, like the colors of the blooming roses, the smell of the trees and the echo of your friend’s loud laughter. 

Looking back, you finally realize how flawed those original expectations of yours were, and how they were always destined for failure. Your new Mason jar is much more dependable, and it won’t shatter to pieces like the last one did. Yes, college is hard and confusing and painful at times, but it isn’t like that all the time. There is light in the darkness if you look hard enough. And really, all of the trials you’ve experienced have served to form you into a more authentic version of yourself. 

The suffering you’ve undergone has been a fire, hot with pain. And you, you have been a piece of iron. God, the divine blacksmith, has used this fire to form you into the truest version of yourself – a beautiful masterpiece made in his image. The long nights and puffy eyes have not gone to waste. They were necessary to get you to where you are today. Growing is painful, and college is where you go to grow. 

Once you realize this, things start to look up. Relationships come and go, but the ones that really matter stick. Your feeling of homesickness is still there, but it takes a backseat to the feeling of hope. Classes are still challenging, but you’re starting to get the hang of it. And soon enough, you come to realize that you’re genuinely glad you stuck it out. You are stronger after everything, and it shows. This was God’s plan all along. 

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