Application Anxiety

Application Anxiety

Application Anxiety
Beth Harrell


“Why should I come to this school?” When I was working as an admission counselor at the Christian college I graduated from, that question was often posed to me by high school seniors. I really loved my undergraduate experience and I really loved that job. At the time though, I found that to be a difficult question and frankly, it made me a little uncomfortable. I was meeting this student for the first time. I knew very little about them or their family and I certainly didn’t know anything about their finances. It felt presumptuous of me to convince them to come to a school when I didn’t really know if they should attend there at all.


And now as a parent I find myself on the other side of that question. I’m not alone—thousands of people also have their oldest child beginning their senior year and are overwhelmed with helping their child make decisions about post-high school plans. During this process, I’ve been thinking often about my first job and how those students’ questions apply now, as I help my daughter.


There is quite a bit of pressure for juniors and seniors in high school to be figuring out their plan for life. They need to plan so they can choose the right major, the right college and apply for the right scholarships. And then, should they be focusing only on Christian colleges or is a public university okay? And it snowballs. Is location more important than their major? Their roommate more important than professors? Should they focus on a trade school with a guaranteed job or follow their dream of becoming a starving artist? Do they pick a school they are passionate about and hope the money works itself out or make practical, less exciting choices? Should they scrap the whole plan and take a year off to find themselves? 


These are all good and well-intended questions that need to be answered. But if we pause to weigh these questions against biblical wisdom, I wonder if we have subtly given too much weight to the wrong worries. It’s possible that in the flurry of post-high school planning, we have lost sight of eternal goals—of what actually matters and therefore what doesn’t matter. Does it make sense to place the burden of “finding God’s plan for your life” upon college choice? A decision that only a small percentage of people in the world actually make? I don’t think it means we should feel guilty for having the privilege of this decision. But it does mean that we shouldn’t equate our ability to choose our college and career with choosing the way God works in and through our choices. We shouldn't confuse our opportunity for decision making with determining God's will for our future. 


As Christians we know that no institution or address owns the ability for God to do his work. And no degree or career choice guarantees my child will grow into the mature Christ-follower that I pray she does. My current-day circle of committed, mature Christian disciple-makers includes graduates from small Christian liberal arts schools, big public universities, beauty schools, Catholic schools, trade schools, college dropouts and no college at all. When it comes to how God can use his people for his work, it seems that maybe post-high school formulas are not quite so formulaic.


When I hear people say things like “We are prayerfully hoping for admission to Harvard.” it seems off somehow. There is, of course, nothing wrong with hoping for admission to Harvard— but it is interesting that I’ve never heard the phrase, “We are prayerfully hoping for Tri-Valley Technical College.” I humbly submit that both of those are the wrong prayers. After all, isn’t it true that graduates from both schools can end up with steady jobs and a mature Christian walk that seeks to make disciples? May I suggest “When my finances/circumstances dictate that my child ends up at the local state university, I’m prayerfully hoping that he can be a strong light shining for God’s glory.” Or “When my child becomes a skilled auto mechanic, I’m prayerfully hoping that she maintains cars well and deals with people honestly.” Or even “When my child ends up at an ivy league school, I’m prayerfully hoping that her placement around high-achieving students and adults will help her grow in her appreciation for those who don’t have such opportunities.”


Recently, I wrote a blog about the building maintenance staff at our church. I haven’t asked them specifically, but I think I can safely assume that when they were 18 they did not envision themselves in their particular career. ‘Custodian’ doesn’t evoke enthusiasm quite like nurse, teacher, lawyer, engineer, or accountant. But God has very clearly placed these incredible people in this time and place. This is not a new insight but it bears repeating since I seem to have forgotten the message. God’s priorities aren’t how much money your children make or what awards your children won or what college your child graduated from or how many people know your child’s name or what their LinkedIn profile looks like. He cares about what they do for his kingdom. As Ecclesiastes reminds us, all that other stuff literally disappears. And my worth is not measured in my kids post-high school choices.


In my humanness, I am still filled with anxiety. But I thank God that making practical decisions about larger-than-life things can be done with confidence in God’s sovereignty. My mom reminded me recently that not one single person was praying about her college decision or even cared that she went to college. Yet her ‘un-prayed for choice’ ended up being the place she met my dad and found her way to a Christian community where they raised four daughters who all married Christian spouses and are faithfully serving the Lord. This is proof of how he works mightily, even when we aren’t. God has better and grander plans for my children than I could ever design so I should “...not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself”  (Matt 6:34).


There are a few Matthias Media books that do a fantastic job sorting through these questions.  Guidance and the Voice of God, Do you Feel Called by God?, and Course of Your Life are just a few.  Guidance and the Voice of God in particular helped me to change my narrative from “How in the world can I know God’s purpose for my life?” to “If God’s ultimate purpose is to transfer and transform us to be disciples of Jesus and to grow in Christlikeness, how should that inform my life decisions?” It’s sound wisdom that I need to be reminded of right now. And whether my daughter spends next year at Harvard or Tri-Valley, I pray Psalm 37:4 would be true: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Beth Harrell

Beth has been with Matthias Media since 2012. She and her husband, Matt, have four children. Beth’s degrees are in communications (Taylor University) and counseling (Butler University). Originally from rural Illinois, Beth proudly calls Youngstown, OH her home now. She also is the Women’s Ministry Director at Old North Church.
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