15 Lessons Since Freshman Year

It was 15 years ago this month that I was a college freshman at Wheaton College. I still remember that August: packing up my parents’ car and driving from Kansas City to the Chicago suburbs, shopping at Target for dorm room necessities, attending orientation week activities, meeting people for the first time who would become my best friends. In many ways those days were the turning point in my life, the beginning of my intellectual and spiritual coming of age. When I look back on who I was in those days and who I am now, I see so much change. So many lessons.

I recently listened to the old Verve Pipe song, “The Freshman,” with its memorable chorus:

For the life of me / I can not remember /
What made us think that we were wise…

The song captures the folly of freshman hubris and yet the promise of it too: the wide-eyed wonder and teachability that (at its best) the process of education cultivates.

I’m reminded of the significance of those first few months of college now as I prepare to teach a First-Year Seminar course this fall at Biola University. On Friday I’ll meet my 20 students for the first time and I’ll do my best to set them up for success as they begin the journey I began 15 years ago. Among the nuggets of wisdom I’ve accumulated in the years since I was a freshman in college, I might share with them these lessons, listed here in Twitter-length summary form:

1. We can learn from thinkers/artists who aren’t right on everything. Celebrate common grace. Focus on common ground. Partner for common good.

2. Discerning God’s will is like paddle-boarding. Even when there’s no clear direction we must pick one & paddle forward, lest we fall in.

3. Tension and paradox are facts of faith and life. We go astray when we try to oversimplify or too neatly resolve uncomfortable tensions.

4. Embrace the beauty of Sabbath & accept your limits. Efficiency isn’t God. Read for pleasure. Take naps & aimless walks. Listen to silence.

5. Healthy critique is good but chronic cynicism stunts growth. Admit wonder, be enchanted, point out what’s right before what’s wrong.

6. Covenants free us from the arbitrary confusion of our fickle heart. Keeping promises to others = more important than being true to yourself.

7. Joy has more to do with impermanence, loss, longing and limits than it does the faux happiness promised by comfort, freedom and consumerism.

8. Slow is almost always better than fast. In drinking, eating, reading, writing, tweeting, thinking, speaking, deciding & other such things.

9. We don’t marry soul mates; we marry “suitable strangers.” In all relationships, commitment is more important than compatibility.

10. “Going through the motions” isn’t always so bad. We grow by committing to habits & routine & showing up even when we’re not “feeling it.”

11. However uncomfortable it may be, the accountability of a local church is a gift. It provides escape from the prison of self autonomy.

12. True authenticity is not glorifying brokenness but seeking wholeness. As Christian Wiman says: “Faith in God is, finally, faith in change.”

13. It’s OK to change your mind or admit to being wrong. Intellectual humility empowers discovery. Wisdom = curiosity more than confidence.

14. Avoid pendulum positions. Growth comes when we see that balance is not compromise, moderation is not weakness & truth isn’t always extreme.

15. Almost everything important is more complex & needs more nuance than a 140-character tweet can provide.