Around this time, 7 long years ago, I was packing up my childhood room and counting down the days until I got to move out of my parents’ home and into the college dorms. That day feels like a lifetime ago, but I can still recall the excitement and anticipation that I felt (in fact, for the past week Facebook has been reminding me of how excessively “18-year-old me” used my status updates to count down the days until move-in day). As I sit here now, 7 years later, there are many young adults just beginning to embark on their own college journey. I live just down the street from a University, and this week I have seen an explosion of excited and energetic young people at every local Starbucks and Chipotle… it’s “back to school” season!
As I reflect back on that time in my life, I remember receiving many well-intentioned messages, meant to encourage and inspire me. They were so positive and optimistic, so full of hope and expectation. Maybe you’ve heard them too (or told them to a student heading off to school):
“These will be the best years of your life!”
“The friendships that you will form in college are the ones that will last a lifetime!”
Simple messages that convey the hopes that we have for each of our loved ones as they enter into a new season of life… but what about when those messages that we so eagerly receive don’t turn out to be true?
See, my years in college were not the best years of my life, in fact, they were some of the worst. And unfortunately, many of the friendships that I formed in college didn’t survive to graduation, and certainly not into my post-graduate years… So each time that I would hear those messages repeated, it felt like another nail hammered into the coffin.
I came to the end of my college years believing that my “best years,” or at least my shot at them, were behind me. I left college believing that I would walk through the rest of my life alone, because I had missed my chance at making the “lifelong friends” that people told me I would make in college. I walked across the stage at graduation, a day that is supposed to be full of promise and excitement, thinking, “If these were supposed to be the best years of my life, there’s not much hope for the rest of them.”
We paint a glorious and promising picture of what college will be, and for some this may indeed be their experience. Yet the sobering statistics by Emory University show that more than 1,000 college students commit suicide each year, and 1 in 10 college students have made a plan for suicide. These statistics make it clear that, for many, those years are not the best years of their lives. In the face of the pain and difficulties that many experience in those years, our well-intentioned remarks may only serve to intensify the pain and the despair that these students are experiencing.
I am in no way saying that we should send students off to school with a pessimistic outlook, throwing a wet towel of doom and gloom over their excitement and anticipation. As a recovering pessimist, I know full well how that can wreak havoc on the human spirit. But when we place the full weight of our expectation and hope on something that was never meant to bear that weight, sooner or later it’s sure to come crumbling down around us. When we place the expectation of “the best days of your life” on a highly circumstantial thing, such as a 4 year (give or take) season of life, we place our hope in entirely the wrong place. So, whether your college years have been the best days of your life or the worst, or anything in-between… or maybe you’ve never had the opportunity, or those days are still to come… Whoever you are and whatever season of life you may be walking through today, what I want to say to you is this: Your best days are still ahead.
One of the things I have regretted most about my post-grad years is the time spent grieving for what was lost during those challenging college years; the time spent mourning what never was, instead of seeing the beauty and opportunity that was set before me each and every day. There is a beautiful passage in the book of Lamentations that says:
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” – Lamentations 3:19-23, NIV
God’s mercies are new each and every morning… which means that it is never too late; there is no broken life and no painful season that He cannot redeem. Each and every day we are invited to step into the beautiful things that He has in store for us. See, the “best days of our lives” are not confined to those few years of our lives spent in college, or any other season (engagement, marriage, parenthood, retirement…) to which those expectations have been ascribed. Our “best days” are what is offered to us and what we are invited into each and every morning by the hand of our Creator… Each day holds the potential to be our best day yet.
But here’s the thing; we are not offered promises of ease and pleasure, we are not offered an exemption from the pain and suffering that is inevitable in this life. We are certainly not promised that our days will be the carefree adventure that we dream of, or that movies sometimes portray. What we are offered is the opportunity to place our hope in something far greater than any of the “best days” we could ever imagine. We are offered a Savior, and if we place our trust in Him, we are promised an eternity with Him in Heaven.
“However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’— the things God has prepared for those who love him” – 1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV
Maybe the season you’re in right now is everything that you’ve hoped for, if so ENJOY IT, that is a gift from God! But know that as great as life may be today, there are still better days ahead, amazing things that God has in store for you. So when this season comes to an end (and it will), don’t believe the lies that your best days are behind you, don’t get caught living in the past. Or maybe you’re struggling right now, you’ve watched dreams and expectations fall flat, and your life doesn’t look anything like what you’d hoped it would. Know that this is but a season – whether it lasts a few days, months, years, or even a lifetime – and that this life is but a blink of the eye in light of eternity. Let your hope rest not in anything that this life has to offer, but in the promises that are ours in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
“we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” – Hebrews 6:18b-19a
I can say with absolute confidence that my best days are still ahead of me. I can say that with the recognition that there are trials and hardships that I will encounter on my journey, because I know that my “best days” will not be found in this life, but with my Savior for all of eternity. There will be good days and bad days in this life… seasons of joy and seasons of sorrow. But the highest of highs and the lowest of lows pales in comparison to the glorious riches of what awaits us when we meet Jesus face to face and get to spend all of eternity with Him.