Never have I ever written as much as I did this past semester for university. I’m not sure if it’s a 3rd year thing or just that I was lucky enough to have professors who loved written assessments but holy cow, my fingers hurt just thinking about all the typing I did! Counting only pieces that were 8+ pages, I wrote 9 academic papers this semester. Huh, when I see that number it actually doesn’t seem like that many but let me tell you, it felt like a million.
The last week of classes was, in particular, rather brutal. In the span of 9 days, I had 3 final exams, an Arabic oral presentation and 4 papers due. I barely slept and I should have been stressed out of my mind. Shocking everyone, myself included, I was incredibly calm and focused. In comparison to last fall, in which I spent most of the exam period alternating between crying from stress and talking about how stressed I was to anyone who would listen, this semester I felt like I had everything under control, despite the overwhelming amount of work I had. I think the sheer volume of what I had to do actually helped because I felt like just finishing it would be an accompaniment, regardless of the grade that I achieved.
However, the most incredible thing I realized this finals season is just how much my perspective on grades and exam stress has changed since first year. As crazy as it might sound to those of you who don’t share my faith, I had this incredible sense of peace during exams (and really all semester) that God had this. That didn’t necessarily mean I was going to get As in all my classes but this was the first time in school that I genuinely, deep down in my soul, knew that my grades do not define me. That my best was enough, whether that meant I lost my scholarship or if it meant I got straight As, I knew I would be silly to think that something as little as getting a C+ in Arabic or failing a Statistics exam could possibly derail God’s plan for my life.
God is the Creator of the universe. He designed the tallest mountains and the deepest depths of the sea. He crafted the world’s most precise intricacies and set in motion the laws of nature. He imagined every language before any human tongue spoke it and ordered the world with incredible attention to detail. And most amazingly, I too am part of His grand, elaborate, creative and perfect design. Wow! Because of that, I am inherently enough. I was created enough.
I’ve known this in my head for years. But last year there was a time when I had to confront myself and ask “am I trusting God with school because I trust Him or because it keeps working out fine in the end? If I actually failed a class or an assignment would I still trust Him with it and say that He is good?”. I was about to find out. I had a take home final due in my International Relations Class (which had been killing me all semester) and I had spent about 17 of the last 24 hours writing the final. I was doing OK in the class, but not great and definitely not as well as I wished I was. Finally handing in that paper felt so freeing; it was finally over, after much stress and striving.
Then I got home. A friend was going to come over before church and I was scrambling to clean my persistently messy room when I picked up a piece of paper and saw that it was one of the pages of my assignment. It had slipped off the printer and because the cover page had been there, I had just stapled the assignment and handed in, with about 500 words missing. Cue instant nausea and hysteria. God bless my poor friend Jon who showed up to my door to me sobbing and running around my room in a panic, trying to call my professor’s office, which was now closed. I tried to calm down and then Jon and I prayed for favour with my professor and TA and I emailed them both the electronic version of my paper, explaining what had happened.
As we headed to church, I was trying so hard to let it go and trust that God would make it all work together for good but I just couldn’t. I was furious with myself for not being more careful. I was mad that this class was, yet again, stressing me out. And to be perfectly honest, I was mad at God. Here I am, in university, trying to honour the opportunity I had been given to get an education, trying to do what I felt God had called me to be doing in this season of life and He, in all His power, couldn’t make sure I handed my paper in right?! Sounds silly I know but I’m sure we’ve all been there with anger that makes absurd accusations regardless of their truth. Thankfully Jesus is used to taking the ugliest parts of my human nature and drawing me closer to himself with patience, love and grace.
We got to church just as I received an email from my professor telling me that she would not be including the missing page and that my assignment would be marked as it had been handed in. Of course, I start sobbing again and go hide alone at the back of the church. I spent the entire service in angry, crying prayer. Y’all probably think I am so dramatic and honestly, I knew I was being dramatic too. I kept telling myself it was just a paper, that it was just one class, that it wasn’t life or death but I was so distraught.
That’s when God really started getting deep into the heart of it all. Why did this academic setback send me spiralling so hard? Why did I feel like such a failure?
Even though I could say that my identity is found in who God says I am, was it really true? That afternoon, God softened my heart, drew me close in his presence and reminded me who I am. I am not an incomplete IR paper. I am not my transcript. I am a daughter of the Highest King. I am chosen, set free and redeemed. There are plans for my life that will go beyond my wildest dreams if I am willing to give the reins over to the Lord. I had to level with God and admit that I had been idolizing academic success, for a long time. I had placed what my uOzone grade report said above what God himself said about me.
It was a hard lesson and it didn’t end that day. Last December as I headed home for Christmas I was utterly exhausted. I had had the worst four months of my entire life. Academically, personally, professionally. It had all been difficult. I was tired. So tired. My best friend and I sat in a parking lot one day and just yelled and laughed at how absurdly terrible our fall semesters had been. But then we talked about how good God is through those hard seasons.
I walked into my second semester and 2017 feeling more grounded in God’s word than ever before. I had learned what is means to hide myself in Him and His promises. I’ll be writing about 2017 year soon but for now, let me just tell you that it was been one full of grace, full of hard lessons and more anger at God and more running towards him all the same. It has been a year of growth and change and dreaming and hope. So much hope. We are so lucky to get to life this life, complete with all it’s joy and challenge.
So, who can stop the Lord Almighty? Not me and certainly not my grades. I am enough. I am worthy of the plans he has for my life because He created me, Jesus redeemed my life and I choose to value that above all else. That doesn’t mean I don’t try my very best at school – on the contrary, I believe my education is one of the biggest blessing I have been given and I want to steward it well. What it means is that I am free to do my best and have that be enough. I am free to hand things in and sleep in peace knowing that my world will not fall apart, regardless of what grade I get back. It means walking out of exams and not feeling like I’m going to melt in a puddle of tears. It means going home at the end of semester and not feeling like I just climbed into a lifeboat. Because I wasn’t drowning in the first place.
Trust God, friends. Rest in the knowledge that your best is enough. You are enough.
Until next time, Sam