Faith > Fear: What it means to be a Christian in the global pandemic

It’s fascinating to me the way that this time in our world, this time in human history, is teaching us so much about each other. This time of quarantine has had this incredible power to reveal who we really are, at our core. Even among my own friends, I am learning who the introverts are, as they spend this time all curled up cozy in their houses with books and baking, not too upset to be without social obligations. I’m learning who the true extroverts are, the ones who are using this time to talk to as many people as they possibly can about anything and everything. And we are all learning who our true friends are, the ones we can talk to for hours about anything and everything, the ones we facetime just to share silence with when we get bored or sad (since there is nothing new or interesting going on in our lives to update them on).

But most importantly of all, this time is showing us who really understands the meaning of the words community, selflessness, empathy, and compassion. 

The bottom line right now is that none of us WANT to stay locked up in our houses, missing out on precious moments with friends and family! But those of us committed to it are those with the ability to see beyond the present moment, to feel the pain of the suffering world, to cry tears along with those mourning and weeping. 

My heart has been absolutely broken the past few weeks as I have seen how truly selfish our world has become. We’ve lost the ability to empathize with our fellow human beings so much to the point that we are willing to risk the lives of those around us, willing to carry a potentially fatal disease to someone’s grandparent, mother, sibling, or child, all because we want an iced latte. We are willing to negate the hard work of those on the front lines, working themselves to the bone and isolating themselves from their families, all because you are bored and want to see your friends??

And here is where I am going to get real honest, my friends — my heart breaks even more when I look at some members of the church community. I am a Christian, which means, simply, that I follow a man who stopped to weep with widows, a man who gave up a heavenly throne to live a life of pain and poverty, a man who was tortured on a cross like a criminal to save the world from sin and be an example of true love. And I am proud to be part of so many strong communities of faith and churches of people who have truly given their lives to Him.

But as the weeks go on, I am saddened by our response as a church. Jesus died on a cross to save us, but we can’t go without a barbeque or a haircut to avoid risking the lives of our brothers and sisters on earth? We are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus, the instrument of His selfless love in a broken world, but when our comfort is challenged, we decide it’s ok to put people’s lives at risk because we want to see our friends or share a meal?? We are part of a faith that teaches sacrificial love and putting our neighbors before ourselves, and we are being called to do that now more than ever. But, it looks different. In this pandemic, sacrificial love means staying home when you’d rather be out. It means having a digital dinner party when you’d much rather have one in person. It means having a world view that expands beyond yourself and your daily life. It means giving up the things that we WANT to do so that others might have more years on this earth.

My friends, I know it is so hard to be walking through this time without our traditional, in-person community. We are all aching for connection. But we have a responsibility right now, as people of empathy and compassion, as people of faith, to lead by example and show the world what it means to truly put others first. As believers, we believe that our actions have power, and that one person can shift the life of another, for better or for worse. We have to start acting like it. We have to start holding each other accountable. We have to start calling each other out on our failings. We are being called to guide each other and the world toward sacrificial love. Are we going to do it? Or 20, 50, 100 years from now, when they write about us in history books, are we going to regret the way we lived and wish we had done more?

Apparently there’s a problem with smart choices…

“I’m proud to announce that I will be attending community college in the fall.”
“Really? You’re way too smart for that.”

“Don’t waste your time on that.”

Yes, that is a conversation I have had multiple times. This is the culture we are raised in and this generation seems to think that the only way you are successful is by leaving home right at 18, traveling halfway across the country, and going to a full 4 year university. And there is nothing wrong with that at all! If that’s right for you, good for you! I mean it sounded pretty great to me too.

But then I didn’t get the money I needed to make that four year college affordable. I was going to spend my last summer at home working my butt off just to help my parents cover the crazy tuition. And for what? To go to a school I would graduate from with a cumulative debt of $60,000-80,000 to pay off fresh out of college? And really that is understandable for some people if that’s really where you feel you need to be. But for me, that didn’t seem like the way I wanted to start my life.

My parents mentioned staying home for a year and getting my GE done at a college nearby but I was hesitant because at school, community college was kind of a joke. Many students teased about it and thought of it as the suggestion that counselors made when your transcript wasn’t up to par for the schools you actually wanted to apply to. And everyone was going away and I didn’t want to be left behind. But let me rephrase my question: Should I go off to a school I would graduate from with $60,000-80,000 of student loans to pay off fresh out of college, just because I felt pressure from my school and peers?

And let me say something, not to brag but to make my point. I had above a 4.0 GPA, I was in the top ten percent of my class, was a runner up for valedictorian, and got into the schools of my choice. But that doesn’t mean that I wanted to launch myself straight into more hard-core academics at such a high cost, both monetarily and emotionally.

We have to stop telling our students that leaving is the only option. Stop putting everyone in the same category. The college system has become more and more competitive. It’s all about who can get in where. Acceptance letters are posted at schools and all over Facebook. And it’s great to be proud of your accomplishments! I love to celebrate my friends’ successes with them. But to me college is a personal achievement.

And personally, being able to do everything I want to do instead of forcing myself straight into the most academic, competitive program in the country after working my butt off for four years, is more of an accomplishment than anything else. And I shouldn’t feel shame for that. I shouldn’t feel the need to have to explain to my friends and family why a “gifted student” like me isn’t leaving for school right away.

Our culture is so hypocritical. We are supposed to be the educated, accepting generation that is open to change and progress, yet we continue to fall into certain pressures of society. Want to be accepting? Stop using acceptance to excuse and allow stupid behavior and try to instead respect intelligent decisions, even if they differ from popular culture. I want to be a well-rounded, happy person. I want to be successful in my eyes, not just the eyes of others. We all deserve that. And that is why we have to stop telling people that one type of education is better than the other. Someone once told me that comparing colleges was like comparing artists. How can you compare the Beatles to Mozart? Both extremely talented and successful, but different. Different doesn’t mean unequal.

So my mom had a friend who worked at the local community college and I agreed to go check it out. The counselor there told me that with my AP credits, I would only need about 3 semesters to finish my GE. So with a year there and a few summer classes, I could transfer to the private four-year university of my choice as a junior, when I’m really only of sophomore age, saving me about $65,000 and getting me out of college a year earlier. Still think I’m “too smart” for community college?

Also, with some of the money I save, I can take dance classes, travel to visit friends, and, for a refreshing change, have time to do the things I want to do, not just things I have to do: get a job I love, read a book, play piano, write a story. Not to mention the fact that I get to stay home with my family and friends another year, which in this teenage culture is also somewhat frowned upon. But it’s a plus in my mind.

And the best part of all–Want to know what my diploma will say when I graduate? The name of my four-year university, just like anyone else. Except mine will cost a lot less in both money and stress.

So, I am proud to announce that I will be attending community college in the fall. No, my attendance doesn’t mean I’m not smart. I got into multiple well-known, four-year universities of my choice. My decision to stay at home another year doesn’t mean I’m immature. It mean I am mature enough to make decisions for my future, not just for the instantaneous excitement. It means I’m happy, I love my hometown, and I have good memories here. It means that I want to save money and start my life in less debt. And I’m not going to miss out on the “college experience.” I’m going to have a great one, and just because it’s different from someone else’s doesn’t mean it’s inferior.

So I’m not “too smart “for my choice. I’m smart BECAUSE of my choice.

Want to know what happens? Check in with me in 10 years. I plan on being be a successful, well-rounded, happy individual.

*Update, for anyone who was wondering (12/1/16): I am on track to transfer to the university of my choice in the Fall of 2017 with my GE completed. I have also played the lead in two musical theater productions, traveled to San Diego, Portland, and Nashville to visit friends, and I have a job at the book store of my choice, making money and building a perfect resume for an English Major. I wouldn’t have traded my choice for anything.