Letter to My Son Who Is Deciding About College
For young adults, spring often brings both the thrill and the dread of new opportunities and important choices. High school seniors decide whether or where to go to college, college sophomores confirm their majors, and those who are ready to graduate have to make a daunting array of decisions: Grad school or employment? Where do I want to live? How in the world am I going to pay for what I choose?
A fortunate few kids follow a very clear path. These are the kids who know what they want to study and where they want to study it. Everything appears to fall into place, and that is a blessing.
But many kids- I would venture to say most kids- grapple with more uncertainty, so that committing to a college and a roommate and a course of study feels far more overwhelming than exciting. For lots of kids, making a college or a career choice is like starting a trip without knowing where they want to end up. There’s no map for that. How can I begin a trip when I can’t choose a route because I don’t know where I want to go?
This, too, is a blessing, even though it may not appear that way to a kid who doesn’t know what to do next. This is the gift that Abraham received when God told him to “Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you…” (Genesis 12:1). “By faith Abraham obeyed… And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise…” (Hebrews 11: 8-9).
God gave Abraham faith. By faith he received guidance to each day’s destination. He had glorious promises that he would have a son and a legacy, but his life was spent waiting for daily marching orders. He knew he was going to “a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God,” but he had no idea how or when he was going to get there, except as God directed (Hebrews 11:10). By faith, our children have the same destination. They learn to get there the same way Abraham did- one yielded, trusting, obedient step at a time.
A few years ago, I drafted a letter to my sons about navigating these major life choices, just as one of them was deciding about college:
Wow. I can hardly believe you are here, now, on the verge of leaving for college. I feel like you just got here, and now you’re off to begin your own life! You’ve been thoughtful and deliberate during this college process, and that’s so wise. I am really proud of you.
Here are some things I have been thinking about.
At turning-point times like these, people will probably give you cards and bookmarks and little engraved boxes that quote a verse you know well: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV) It is reassuring to know that God has a plan, and that plan isn’t evil (!), but by itself the verse can leave you wondering if God would mind shedding a little light on what this great plan for your life is because you have some decisions to make and you don’t want to mess up your future. (More on that in a little bit.)
The problem with reading that verse by itself is that it stops short of telling you what God’s plan looks like. Verses 12 and 13 help clarify: “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” THAT is the plan God has for you: to seek Him with all your heart. Call out to Him and pray to Him. Read His Word and get to know Him as best you can. He promises that He will hear you, and that you will find Him.
God’s plan for your life is for you to seek Him and find Him. How awesome is that?
I can hear you now: “That’s all good, Mom, but it still doesn’t help me decide where to go to school.”
Well, actually, it does. These verses tell you that as long as you are seeking God, you can go to college wherever you want. Examine your motives. If you are seeking the prettiest girls and the easiest classes, that’s not seeking God. (God made pretty girls and is not opposed to some easy classes, but you get my point.) God doesn’t want you to be burdened by this decision. He has given you options because He wants you to ask Him for guidance. If He gave you the option, and you won’t use that option for sinful purposes, then He is leaving the choice up to you. Pastor Kevin DeYoung says, “If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, you will be in God’s will, so just go out and do something.”*
But, you say, what if I make a mistake?
There are several answers to this question. First, there are very few choices you could make that you can’t change your mind. Things like committing your life to Jesus, choosing a spouse, and having children (and getting a tattoo) are permanent. Choosing a job or a school or a major or a career are also big decisions, but you can change your mind on these things and learn a lot from the experience. Don’t be afraid to change course if you want to.
Second: With these big life decisions, any option God has given you has still pros and cons. Don’t think that by choosing one path your life will be smooth and easy- “perfect”- but if you choose the “wrong” path God will be mad at you and bad things will happen. God’s not mean like that. No matter what you choose, good things will happen and bad things will too. “Put aside the passivity and the quest for complete fulfillment and the perfectionism and the preoccupation with the future, and for God’s sake start making some decisions in your life.”* The only sure thing you have in this life is God Himself: You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Here’s the bottom line: you cannot thwart God’s design for your life. You can’t mess up His plan. You may have a wicked curveball, but you can’t throw Him a pitch He didn’t see coming. You cannot let Him down or disappoint Him or annoy Him or make Him want to punish you. God already knows where you are going to college. He uses your good choices and your-not-so-good choices for His glory and your good. This is what the sovereignty of God means in your everyday life.
Looking back thirty years from now, you will find that some of your biggest trials and disappointments, even those things that appeared at one time to be “mistakes,” are exactly what God used to get you where He wanted you to go. Again, His will for your life is for you to work as hard as you can to get to know Him. That is literally the only choice you will ever make that has eternal consequences: “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, in the end it will make no difference what you have chosen instead.”**
You are my son, but even more, you are God’s son. He handcrafted you, and then He redeemed you (Isaiah 43:1). I have had the unbelievable joy and privilege of raising you to manhood, but from a heavenly perspective, I am just your big sister. God is my Father just like He is yours. He has never let me down, little brother; He won’t let you down either.
I am completely confident you and God can do life together.
Even though we don’t know the details yet, I am so fired up to see your future unfold. Here’s why: “God Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless, nor forsake nor let you down or relax my hold on you. Assuredly not!” (Hebrews 13:5 AMP)
Who could ask for anything more?
I love you so much.
*Kevin DeYoung, in the best book I have ever read about discerning God’s will: Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will. If you know someone (of any age) who is struggling with a major life choice, I highly recommend this book. DeYoung is funny and the tone is light, but he is deeply committed to Scripture and to the Kingdom.
** William Law