Secret Hopes and Dissappointments

29 Feb

Every fall we have an orientation worship service the day before classes begin.  It is mostly attended by freshmen.  A few years ago we included an activity in which we asked people to write on slips of paper what they were hoping for, what they were worried about, what they were excited about, and what disappointments they might have.  They put these slips in four separate bowls which were then lifted up in prayer.  Last week I pulled these papers out of the back of my “junk” drawer.

What did they hope for?  That they would stay close to God and not go astray, with excessive partying and other dangers.  They hoped to be happy, they hoped to make their parents happy, and they hoped to make God happy.  They hoped to be “right.”

As for worries, they worried about losing their inner compass; they worried that they wouldn’t make good friends or fit in.  They worried about classes.  They worried about drinking too much, breaking up with their girlfriend/boyfriend. They worried about the future and they worried about the past.  They worried about everything.

At the same time, they were excited about the newness of it all: new place, new people, a new beginning.  They were excited about becoming a new person and growing a deeper and stronger faith.

Disappointments?  These were potentially huge.  One said he would be disappointed if he did not fulfill his potential in everything he does.  Others would be disappointed if they developed any bad habits, and many seemed to shudder at the possibility of disappointing their parents.  One said she would be disappointed if she remained the same kind of person, and another would be disappointed if she continued to be as unhappy as she had always been.  Some would be disappointed if they were abandoned by God, and another said, “I will be disappointed if things never change for me.”

I think about how most of the incoming freshmen are cheerful, friendly, fun people.  Their faces reflect the excitement they feel about starting something new, the high hopes they feel about the future.  But these bright young faces rarely ever reflect the worries and fears they secretly wrote on these little slips of paper.  They rarely ever betray a dread that they will always be unhappy and alone.

Bill Campbell recently wrote on this site about the “privilege of disappointment;” that is, naming the disappointments and letting them go to experience the grace of God.  How much unnecessary angst there is when we bear these burdens in secret!

I wonder how things are for these anonymous students now, three years later.  I don’t know who among them has become an active part of our group, who has drifted away to a different group, or who has dropped out of college.  Among the students I know best, I often hear them express their appreciation that our ministry is a welcoming, nonjudgmental group.  Reading these old hopes, worries, and fears of disappointment, makes me realize how important that is and why.

Dear beloved student;  You are never alone!  And through all your failures, God loves you…and we do too.

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Maggie Gillespie is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and is in her fifth year as Director of Protestant Campus Ministry (PCM) at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.  She has lived in Bloomsburg for 18 years with her husband, Kim, and their four children.  Her favorite pastimes include reading on the front porch, hanging out in the kitchen with family and friends, and screaming her head off at high school soccer games.  Maggie holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, a Master of Divinity from Lancaster Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Illinois.

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