By this time in the semester, just about everyone is ready to be done. Thanksgiving is next week. When we come back, it’s finals, and then we will be done. It’s easy to lose sight of the present in anticipation of the future and the long break that awaits us. One of the consequences of such anticipation is that it tends to diminish the value of the present. You’re probably working on papers, final projects. And, if you’re particularly ambitious, you might even be preparing for your finals already. I know you’re tired. It’s hard to do your best when you’re tired. And, let’s be honest, it’s hard to care.
So you may be asking yourself, “What’s the point?” I’ve heard such sentiment from many students who are questioning their majors, who are unsure about their futures, and who are just plain tired. These kinds of thoughts cause a lot of stress, and this is time in the semester when the last thing you need is more stress. But it’s hard to control such thoughts.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about self-discipline. There, he says:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NRSV)
You’re in college for a reason, so ask yourself a couple questions: What is the prize; what are you hoping to achieve by being here; and are you working with that goal in mind? Not everyone in college knows what they will be doing five years hence. In fact, I would wager that none of you can be certain. Even having plans doesn’t mean that that is the way your future will unfold. And sometimes, it takes many missteps to find the right path.
So what is the appropriate goal? You don’t want to run aimlessly through college; you want to be able to anticipate the prize and to work towards it. But to label your goal as a job is to diminish your current experience. College is more than a means to an end, it’s a place to grow and to become a well-rounded and educated adult. Looking at Paul’s words, we can see this same idea. Are you working for a perishable wreath or an imperishable one? A job will never last. You could be fired, downsized, or replaced by futuristic machines that can do the work of 20 people. You could become unable to work through accident or illness; and eventually, you will probably retire and find yourself seeking new meaning in your life. Your future career, as fulfilling as it may be, is a perishable wreath.
The imperishable wreath, however, is the one that will always be with you. Paul is talking specifically about faith and the personal attitudes which faith requires: such as self-discipline. I’m talking about faith as well, but I’m also talking about who you are. What defines you? What kind of person do you want to be? You’ve probably heard that college is the time to ‘find yourself,’ but I disagree. College is the time to define yourself. Finding yourself is too passive. It assumes that we have no say in who we are, but we do. You can be the person that you want to be; it just takes a little work. So when faced with the challenges of school and life, don’t think: How will this impact my future? Think: What kind of person do I want to be? And, work as if you were already there.