Dear First Year Me,
You’re in for a wild ride. These next four years won’t even come close to what you imagined.
If I told you that more than half of your undergrad career would be completed during a global pandemic that moved all of your classes online, would you believe me? Probably not. All the same, your university experience will shape up to be a unique one.
This isn’t a letter full of regrets. Yeah, you probably could’ve gone without getting a $7 tea every time you’re on campus, but you know what? You live and you learn.
Besides learning how to spend money wisely and how to manage your time, you’ll learn many other valuable lessons throughout your time at Western. With that in mind, I have some advice for you as you step into this new chapter.
School is stressful. I know you have a particularly heavy course load. Unfortunately that load won’t get any lighter as you move into your upper years. Not knowing for certain which courses will be offered when or if you’ll even have room in your schedule is anxiety-inducing.
At the same time, I would encourage you not to worry too much. As cliché as it is, your professors and faculty want you to succeed. They will help you plan your courses, understand the material, and offer emotional support. Jesus frequently commands not to worry about the future because God is looking out for you (Matthew 6:25-34). He has everything under control, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.
If it helps, I’ll say this: despite the uncertainty, existential crises, and mental breakdowns, you will graduate and walk across the stage. Looking back, there is no way you could’ve made it through undergrad without God’s help. School won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
Also, while school is important, it’s not everything. Yes, you’ll learn about different theories and practices, but ultimately you’ll learn more about who you are and who you want to be.
Challenge yourself to learn and try new things outside of school.
Work hard, but don’t beat yourself up over your grades.
Make sure you’re not only investing in your studies, but also investing in others.
I know, navigating group dynamics is hard. You often feel more like the outsider, unseen and unwanted. You go to all the events and hangouts, but feel like it’s all for nothing. You wonder why you struggle to connect with others. You quickly realize that there won’t be instant sparks and inside jokes with everyone you meet.
Truth be told, you’re on the right track. We’re often misled to believe that you have to click right away with someone in order to become good friends. However, it takes time to cultivate meaningful relationships with others.
The people who are strangers to you now can become good friends in the future. Similarly, the people you consider to be close friends now can easily become strangers in the future.
Not only does it take time to build relationships with others, but it takes consistent effort. No relationship will be perfect, but that doesn’t mean they should be avoided altogether either. There will be times you’ll hurt your friends or your friends will hurt you, but as long as you can both be honest with each other, you’ll learn and grow. Good, meaningful relationships won’t be easy, but they are worth it.
The best friendships in life are unexpected. So don’t be afraid to branch out of your usual social circle or get to know people who might not have much in common with you. It’s funny how God works. Even your relationship with God will encounter some hardships, and you shouldn’t be afraid to lean into that.
Coming out of high school, you feel like you’re on top of the world. You’re in a new exciting chapter in your life and you’re confident in your faith. I don’t want to rob you of your excitement and confidence. However, I want to give you some insight into the trials ahead.
The pandemic will amplify questions and doubts you’ve had simmering beneath the surface.
If God is good and all powerful, why doesn’t he stop suffering?
Why do some groups of people suffer more than others?
Does God really care at all?
Even though you had a Christian upbringing and know the “right” answers, it’s completely normal to wrestle with questions, especially ones that don’t have easy or direct answers.
Questions and doubts are part of the reality of growing and maturing in your faith, even if you don’t feel like that’s the case. God invites us to bring our questions and doubts to him because he knows they come from a place of wanting to understand him. While we can’t know everything there is to know about God, he does give us wisdom and insight into who he is.
Your faith in him will waver. There will be times where you consider walking away. You will spend lots of time feeling isolated from others even as pandemic restrictions gradually begin to loosen. It’ll be discouraging and lonely. Your faith will stagnate. God will feel more distant than ever. You’ll wonder if he’s forgotten about you or if you’re too far gone for him.
Thankfully God’s love for us isn’t dependent on the strength of our faith in him. He loves and embraces us in the midst of our questions, doubts, struggles, hardships, and frustrations.
I want to remind you of God’s love. He loves us when life is going well. He also loves us through hardships and hopelessness. For he is with those who are contrite and lowly in spirit (Isaiah 57:15). Even if you feel distant from him, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you anymore. He loves with an everlasting love that does not change (Jeremiah 31:3).
What I’m trying to say is, your relationship with God won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. You can’t hack your way out of struggles and hardships by your own doing. After all, it’s God’s love that transforms us and his grace that sustains us each day.
Your time in university will go by faster than you realize. Sure, there will be seasons where you desperately want to graduate and be done with school—but I promise you, time flies when you’re stressed. So savour the time you have at university, and enjoy it to the best of your abilities.
Soak in the autumn sunshine on campus.
Hang out with your friends whenever you can.
Never stop trying new foods or searching for new experiences.
Finally, be open to being surprised by God. He can do far more than you ever imagined, and I know that even now he’ll continue to do far more than what I believe to be possible.
So First Year Me, I hope you’re ready. Because these next four years won’t be easy, but they will be worth it.
“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
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