It was in March of my first year of law school when I started to get the feeling that maybe I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing. What started as a little tinge of a thing that I tried to shake off soon ballooned into a full on crisis. How could I quit law school? What would people say? What were my other options, anyway? I sat down with my wonderful wife to talk about it, and despite all my nerves that she would fall somewhere between devastated and aggravated, was blown away when she calmly said alright, lets figure this out.
Jeff and I with our wonderful friend, Phil. Apparently, Jeff wasn't as happy to graduate as we were.
It only took us about 15 minutes at Bethel to know that it was the right move to make. I will never forget perhaps the oddest moment of our visit was when some weird guy burst into a room full of prospective students, loudly announcing his (late) entrance to our little meeting. I knew right away he was interesting, but I could never have guessed the plans God had for us.
A few months later, I had left law school and was preparing to make my first trip to Bethel as a student. I was nervous and a little apprehensive, but also full of faith that I was walking on the path God had placed me on. By the end of that first day, I had about a dozen new Facebook friends and all the confirmation in the world that the next 4 years would work out just fine.
I think that when a person first starts seminary, they're expecting that they will learn things about God and their faith. I certainly thought that I was starting out on a "fact-finding" mission of sorts. To use math as a metaphor: I figured I had mastered Christianity to about an Algebra 2 level, and seminary would push me into the Calculus and Trigonometry realm.
I'm sure there are places where learning looks like that, but I'm very glad that I didn't end up at one of those. Recently I was talking with a college student who is considering seminary and I told him walking into seminary, you have a neatly packaged faith and worldview. You have all the pieces put together just how you like them. Seminary takes all that, and disassembles it for you. Then, once all the pieces are scattered around you, they help you put it back together. It might look the same, but it probably won't. And that's a good thing.
By my second year of seminary, I was way off of the outlined course structure for my program. Kayla and I were adopting our son, Joseph, and I was working full time while trying to be a helpful intern at our church. Even in all the craziness, I never considered quitting. Lots of students already had at that point. That's pretty normal, we were told, a lot of people have great intentions for seminary, but life gets busy.
The thing that kept me going were the friends I had made so far. There were so many students, faculty, and staff who I knew were pulling for me. Their support helped me navigate the business of life and the responsibilities of seminary. Through their love, I realized that while I initially enrolled in seminary for knowledge, what I got along the way was a lifelong group of friends. Real, deep friendships with people who knew me for who I was, and loved me for it.
I like to say that the day I graduated from college was the best non-family related moment of my life. It was this massive sense of accomplishment. I couldn't wait to relive that feeling at my seminary graduation. Over the course of four years, I had accumulated hundreds of books, read thousands of pages, and learned so much about God and the Church. But as graduation approached, I began to realize that while finishing would be amazing, it would be more bittersweet than my college graduation.
Most people make lifelong friends in college. Because I was a transfer student, I never lived in a dorm, so while I had friends throughout undergrad, I've lost touch with nearly all of them. When I graduated, it was a celebration of completion without the pain of missing all those I loved. In my four years at Bethel, however, I had built so many amazing friendships. And like clockwork each year, we would spend a week or two together, catching up, and deepening our relationships. Graduation meant those weeks were over. It meant saying goodbye to a lot of incredible people.
When we sat down with Danielle to record Wednesday's podcast, we didn't really know what we were getting into. We knew we were talking about seminary and adult education, but we had no idea that the conversation would swerve so dramatically toward talk about cohorts.
Thinking about it now, I'm not surprised that it did. I will always remember my time at Bethel with great fondness, and deeply appreciate the education that I received. But what made the whole thing special, the reason that I stuck with it, and the source of so much value wasn't the books or knowledge, it was the relationships. In the end, I couldn't have had my worldview challenged without a community to help me put the pieces back together. I couldn't have grown to understand and love God more without His body gathered around me, pressing me further than I would have been able to go alone.
Ultimately, seminary meant more to me than I could have ever hoped or imagined. Graduation might have been bittersweet, but the memories are straight sugar.
Oh, and that crazy guy who showed up late the first day? That was Jeff. It's not just lifelong friends and a new worldview I got at seminary, it was also an incredible friend, mentor, and boss. So how about you? Are you ready to go back? Ready to get some more education? MDiv? DMin? Maybe even a PhD? Take the step. Make the leap. You won't regret it. I know I don't.
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