A regular occurrence for me: realizing what year it is, followed by the unsettling thought, I’m getting old! In reality, it’s only been five years since I graduated college—but it’s already been five years! Many probably understand this strange paradox. Time flies, and as people say, as a roll of toilet paper goes faster the closer it gets to the end, so do our lives.
As graduation season hit this year, I reflected on the last five years since graduating from The University of Texas at Austin (hook ‘em!). In some ways, 2014 me feels the same as 2019 me—she’s still below-average height, passionate, sassy, and loud as can be. But, there are actually many ways God has grown me, even if it hasn’t been as rapid and noticeable as when I was an InterVarsity student.
Since graduating, I’ve gotten married, worked for two different ministries, moved to a completely different part of the country, and developed new friendships. In all of that, here are five things I’ve learned.
1. No church is perfect.
I often say, “InterVarsity spoiled us.” Deep scripture study, multiethnicity, rich community, and being constantly encouraged to reach those around us with Jesus' love—we gained skills and a beautiful view of what the Church could look like.
But church looks different than college ministry. After I graduated, my then fiancé and I talked about what we wanted in a church. Our list was only around five things, so I was shocked when no church met them all. People are drawn to different things, and churches can only focus on so much (though my cynical self thinks, If we could do it as a group of 40 somewhat immature college students, why can’t a church?). But whether in Texas or Wisconsin, no church has satisfied everything I wanted.
And that’s okay. Find what’s most important to you in your current season. Try to stick with a church when it’s not perfect. And when there’s opportunity, humbly make suggestions. They may not be taken, but I found this better than just complaining and wanting more.
2. Friendships look different post-college.
At least ten friends lived in the same dorm building as me when I was in college. Suitemates I literally saw every day in the hallway didn’t know the Lord. My friends and I could easily knock on neighbors’ doors to ask to take out their trash, give them candy during finals stress, pray for them, or invite them to Bible study.
After college, community and “loving your neighbor” became more difficult. Friends moved all over the country, and neighbors were in different life stages and were often more closed off.
I learned that intentionality is key. Working in full-time ministry, my husband and I have to be intentional about making friends that aren't yet Christian that we can witness to. We've become friends with neighbors by walking our dog outside and starting conversations with those we pass by.
Friendships take more effort, and we may not see people as often, but we’ve learned to schedule hangouts in advance. It’s okay that I may never again experience the same community I did in college. It’s also okay to grieve the loss of friendships and what once was. But there is hope! In my last year in Texas, I experienced some of the best community I ever had—friends who saw each other regularly, had vulnerable conversations, and prayed for each other. This showed me that, even post-college, it’s possible to find solid community; we may just have to be patient for it.
3. Your life doesn’t have to look like others’.
It’s common to compare ourselves to others. We wish we had what people around us have and can even become angry with God when we’re not having the same experiences as others our age.
Sometimes, I feel jealous that I’m not buying a house like many friends are. I don’t have children even though most who have been married for as long as I have are starting to. I may not ever do either of those things or may not for a while. Most of my close friends are single. And while that’s difficult for some, most are confident in how the Lord uses them without a partner.
Society, our families, and even the Church sadly, are constantly directly and indirectly pressuring us that this is how it should go: graduate college, get a good job, get married, buy a house, have kids. But whether or not we follow that progression, or whether or not we do those things at all, God doesn’t value us any less. We are not less complete or less able to bring glory to God, which is the only thing that matters.
4. Sometimes, you just have to take the next step.
About two years ago, the Lord was calling me to something new. Before that, I often told my students what I heard from David Platt at Urbana 12. He talked about pursuing God himself rather than pursuing direction from him for our futures. He encouraged us to set our eyes on Jesus, so that when we arrived at the next place in our lives, we wouldn’t even know how we got there. I wanted to take this advice myself but found it hard to.
In that season, a friend encouraged me to read Acts. And though I studied the book of Acts before, something new stood out. I noticed that Paul just goes from place to place, not always asking God where to go next. He just goes to the next town.
When I had to decide between staying in Texas or moving to Wisconsin to work for InterVarsity, I felt clearly that the Lord was allowing me to choose either, that either would bring him glory. But I also felt him asking how much I was willing to sacrifice for him. So, we made the harder choice, knowing God would bless it and that it was a chance to rely on him more than ever.
We can be anxious about not taking the right step, that somehow our choices can get us off of God’s path for us. But I don’t think that’s how it works. I think we’re supposed to worship God with every choice in every season, and to just take the next step and go to that next place as worship to him.
5. It's important to know your passions and what you care about.
In job transition, moving, prioritizing, and everything we do, it’s essential to know what we care about most. If we do things just because we can, because we’re qualified, or because it’s convenient, we can end up unhappy or burnt out. Try creating a list of your passions or a life mission statement as specific or generic as you want.
Though I can’t recommend this episode, here’s some advice from a not so spiritual show: How I Met Your Mother. *SPOILERS* In the last season, Tracy, the mother, runs into her old Orchestra teacher, Mitch. After some awkward moments and Tracy realizing she’s not where she wants to be, Mitch asks her, “What is it you want to do with your life?” Tracy replies “I want to end poverty.” So Mitch says, “Then every decision you make from here on out should be in service of that.”
Similarly, here’s some advice from the most reliable source, scripture. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Whether we base our lives around that verse or Matthew 22:37-38 or Acts 1:8, or another verse or word God has given you personally, every life decision should come back to a calling, purpose, or passion we have. And for all of us, our number one passion should be Jesus and living for him—when we’re in college, five years out, 40 years out, and for our whole lives.
Ashlye works as the Managing Editor for InterVarsity's Communications and Marketing Team in Madison, Wisconsin. She enjoys deep conversations with friends and adventures with her husband (a Video Producer for InterVarsity) and their corgi, Penny. You can support her ministry here: donate.intervarsity.org/donate#21368.
Believing FOMO’s lies has only left me disappointed, looking for another quick fix, another move to help relieve those thoughts of missing out. It’s a never-ending cycle that leaves me restless and wondering what to try and where to go next.