Dear Sarah.

two week series on learning from the past and looking to the future…

Dear 21-year-old Sarah,

Well, it’s almost time for the next step.  And, being the linear thinker that you are, let me lay it out for you:

High school  —>  College  —>  __?__

I can see why you want to put “graduate school” in that “next step” slot.

  • It’s a respectable, broadly acceptable step.
  • You’re a good student – you know how to succeed as a student.
  • It will help you get a better first job (Ha – already thinking about the next step, are you?)
  • You want to keep learning.

This all makes a lot of sense.  But, as much as you struggle and reckon with the need to be successful, to be accepted, and with maintaining your identity as a good student, you also struggle with how to define success for yourself and not just adopt other people’s definitions.

So, while I like your plan – I really do – I want to give you the opportunity to be a little braver.  I know you’veapplied to a few internships, hoping to squeeze in some dream time and exploration time in the few months before graduate school would begin.  Consider giving yourself a little more breathing room, a little more time to explore.  I know it’s so hard and scary not to plan and execute that “next step” – not to be prepared with the perfect response to the question: “so, what do you want to do with your life?” But, it might be worth it to take some time to explore and practice your dreams even if that means diverting from a timeline you prefer or taking a short-term job that might not be your first choice but might offer you the time or stability to explore other ideas (through reading, volunteering, travel, etc.).

With the current graduate school plan, you will learn a lot and you will set yourself up for a good job.  But you will also suffer from a lack of passion and a weak internal compass.  You come to realize that the continuing on your path into the “real world” requires passion, creativity and vision.  And you don’t quite know how to practice those things.  Over time, you will start giving weight and thought to an idea that has been on your heart for years.  And, as you consider some big life decisions, you will face the familiar challenge of security versus boldness, and then you will read this:

Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend. (Psalm 5:3, The Message)

The clarity of this message will ring in your ears.  As you are examining the many pieces of your life – pieces you have planned for and worked for – you know that they all belong to God, and when you offer them to Him, it is his righteous fire that will separate the wheat from the chaff.  Part of the lesson for you is simply to remember that your life is not your own.  You are called to lay down your life daily in response to God’s will and everything is on the offering table.  In some ways this is a huge relief – that important job you’ve been so stressed about?  It goes up on the table just the same as your free time.

Another lesson is to learn to love the fire – learn to love the power that renews your spirit by breaking things down to what is essential.  Be brave enough to offer God everything you have carefully planned, and when you let go you will find the space to meet God within the unique experiences that He has prepared for you.

So, my advice to you is, take your time.  Ask yourself whether you are clinging to a plan because it has been placed on your heart or because it is “safe.”  Let God’s word be a “lamp to your feet and a light to your path” (Psalm 119:105), revealing His beautiful, non-linear will for your life one step at a time starting from exactly where you are.  And know that time spent envisioning, exploring and practicing is just as important as time spent actually executing a plan.

As I write you this letter, I have moved many steps beyond college, and I still struggle with the challenge of security versus boldness.  But I try to remember to offer the pieces of my life to God so that even though I may experience a little less security, I trust I will find rest for my soul.

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. (Jeremiah 6:16)

Still learning, step-by-step,

Sarah Darley is now living and learning in Fort Worth, Texas after several years spent outside of her home state as a student, a young professional and even as a farmer.  She is passionate about learning from nature, building community, growing (and eating!) good food, and loving her sweet niece and nephews.  Her professional path has taken her to REAL School Gardens, a non-profit that partners with elementary schools to create outdoor classrooms to engage children and teachers.  Sarah knows Ginger from high school, and she treasures this friendship that has continued across so many of the steps on her path, from high school crushes to navigating success as a grown-up.