This is for my students, especially those in college, for I believe that you will encounter this during your years in college; I did. I write this not to make you believe like I do, but so that you know that if and when you encounter this moment, you are not alone. There is hope; I'm sharing my journey with you. You may choose to disagree and that's fine; it's your right. I just want you to know my story for future reference...and I want you to know that I care.
For those of you with psych or education majors, you are taught that the most important thing you can do in this life is to "self-actualize." What does this mean? Well, I think that it means that you discover who you actually are. It's supposed to be good. You are supposed to find out that you are good. Well, that isn't what I found (and I don't think that'll be what you find). I went on the journey and found that I was lost. hopeless. scared.
We're taught that in this self-actualization process, we will find joy, hope, peace, and fulfillment if we do the things we really want to do. If we pursue those things, then we will be fulfilled. Well, as a sophomore in college, honestly, I had it all. (by most definitions)
I had made the Dean's list every semester; I was involved in clubs on campus - in fact, I was an officer in 3 clubs; I had good friends with similar interests and a roommate that I got along with; I went to parties. One thing I lacked - a boyfriend. Oh, if only I had that! THEN I would be okay. THEN my life would make sense! So, let's check off what I had to fulfill me: academic success, respect from peers and adults, friendship, popularity and parties.
But, I was empty. Oh, I was SO empty! I had all these things which were supposed to satisfy, but I didn't feel satisfied. I felt alone. I wondered what the point of it all was. If these things didn't satisfy, what would? At points, I felt despairing (not like depressed or ending my life...just restless), but no one knew that. No one knew the questions that I was wrestling with because you aren't supposed to talk about that.
What I knew that I needed and craved was unconditional love. If I had that, THEN my heart could rest. So, I pursued boys. One in particular - my best guy friend (who should've fit the bill, right?). Well, February of my sophomore year, some events transpired that changed our relationship. I was left feeling like I meant nothing.
This was the last straw. At this point, I realized that I couldn't do this on my own. I could not direct or run my own life because I kept screwing it up!
[A moment for some background: I grew up going to church. When I was 13 or so, I confessed my sins and believed that Jesus died for my sins. I believed that He was my Savior. At this point in college, I still believed that. Knowing Him as my Savior was where it stopped, though. When I started college, I said to God, "Thanks for all your help thus far, but from here on out, I've got it. See you in heaven!" At different points in high school, I wondered if "being saved" was all there was to this God-thing. If that's the goal, why are we still here? What's the point of the rest of life? Did I miss something? When I got to college, though, I was ready for the 'life about me' to begin. I intended to go to church, but I didn't like the Ames version of my church at all. So, I stopped going.]
So, I'd had it. When I pursued life, I found that it eluded me. I thought that my peace, joy and fulfillment would come through success, involvement, popularity or relationships - and it didn't. Pursuing the desires of my heart did not satisfy. Knowing myself - or serving myself - did not take me higher. It brought me lower.
At that point, I decided to get serious about God. I would commit to going to Salt on Thursday and Cornerstone on Sundays. I read the Bible sometimes (because my parents did and they seemed to know a lot). Life started to make sense again...and then, God really turned the lights on.
That summer, still boy crazy and convinced that love was the answer and marriage would be the ultimate solution, I joined a Bible study. During prayer requests, one girl said that she wanted to love Jesus as her husband. To me, marriage has always represented unconditional love. Suddenly, I got it! If Jesus had loved me enough to die for me, then He loved me unconditionally. HE loved me! Here, I found the love that I'd been longing for. Here, I also found the great truth I'd been searching for: if He demonstrated his love for me in this dramatic way, then I needed to respond to this action - in an equal response of love. So, I gave Him the only thing that I truly had to offer: myself.
Don't ignore the gnawing in your stomach. Don't ignore the questions. No matter how much you drink, you can't escape them. No matter the trophies that fill your shelves, you won't be filled. I believe the questions and the gnawing are there for a reason. We were created for more than to serve ourselves. We were created to do more than just satisfy our own desires.
I tell you this, my friends, because the great paradox of self-actualization is that it does not fulfill. Knowing yourself won't lead to satisfaction, but knowing God will. Since that moment of surrender, I have found peace, joy and fulfillment. Because I know God, I'm able to better enjoy this life, my job and my relationships because I don't expect them to offer me things that they can't and were never designed to do. (Granted, I am not perfect. I do slip in my devotion & understanding of where my security and hope should rest. However, God is very faithful and patient to point out error and lead me back to truth.)