dealing with the discomfort of uncertainty
Trust is one of those things that sounds all good and well in theory, but can be downright tough in practice. And let’s be honest, “tough” here is a pretty generous adjective. The process of returning home from my semester in London has been disorienting at times. There’s the transitioning back into the normal life that I have known for the past four years, but then also preparing to leave that behind for another major change—an exciting but terrifying jump into the entirely new world that is post-grad life. At times the vastness of opportunity feels inexplicably thrilling, but in other moments the uncertainty and unfamiliarity is daunting. After four and half months of adventuring through Europe where the thought of walking across a southern California stage to receive my college diploma seemed worlds away, returning to be confronted with the immediate reality of graduation has felt intimidating. It’s no longer three years or even six months away, but instead it’s close enough for me to be making very real decisions concerning life after Biola now.
A crucial aspect of coming back from an experience like study abroad is learning how to implement the growth, learning, and perspective you’ve gained while away into your life back home, where there can be the tendency to slip back into the old patterns of thought and action you had been accustomed to before you left. London was an incredibly precious time of deepening in my relationship with God, and learning a lot about myself, my passions, and my abilities. This gave me a good idea of what I want to do with my life, but what that’s going to look like is still largely unknown to me. If God’s ultimate purpose for my life is a picture, then I received a good handful of the puzzle pieces but am still not quite sure how to put them all together. As any student approaching graduation will understand, sitting in this uncertainty is uncomfortable on good days and the cause of weighty anxiety on others. Even though I know that it will become more clear, that doesn’t always feel like enough, especially in the face of the dreaded, never-ending question of, “So what are your plans for after graduation?” The look of expectation and subtle disapproving tone when they realize you have no idea would make anyone want to wiggle their way right out of the uncertainty and grab tightly onto something, if only to produce a satisfactory answer. In these moments, those nice ideas about trusting in God and waiting on Him suddenly seem so distant.
Next weekend my friend Alexis is coming to visit and we’ll be making a trip to Joshua Tree National Park for some rock climbing! (just hit up REI and bought my very own climbing shoes—stoked!) This in combination with my constant wrestling through post-grad uncertainty and trying to trust God to guide these decisions caused me to remember a lesson learned through my very first experience with outdoor rock climbing—one "that rocked" me.
It happened a few semesters back when I scored a spot in Biola’s coveted rock climbing P.E. class and got to head up to Joshua Tree for a weekend full of camping, climbing, and camaraderie. After a short road trip in, we set up camp for the night under a thick blanket of stars and woke up the next morning to the sun illuminating the landscape around us, allowing us to see the park's beauty for the first time. The entire class was eager with anticipation to get out there and put to use the skills we had been learning and practicing for three weeks.
I started off my first climb with zeal, making my way up the face of the rocks in excitement with Alexis, who was a part of this first trip also, belaying me at the bottom. Excitedly that is, until I got about halway up and I hit a spot where I couldn't find anymore foot or hand holds that felt secure to me. After fidgeting around for a few minutes in determination, fear overtook me and I froze, literally. I looked down nervously at the drop below me and to make matters worse, precisely in that moment it began to snow (okay, so it only snowed for a few minutes but that clearly makes the story better). I was absolutely terrified to make a move and fall, but hated that I was stuck and became incredibly frustrated,
calling screaming down to Alexis for help as she tried to shout up encouragement. After about 20 minutes of this, I finally mustered up the courage to make a move. Holding my breath, I stretched far to the right for what seemed like my most promising option and grabbed on hopefully. My stomach shot up to my throat as I lost my grip and was immediately stricken with the sensation of free fall. I had slipped and fallen about a foot, and then the rope caught me. This changed everything. Experientially knowing that the rope would catch me gave me the confidence not only to continue up and finish the climb, but to relax into trust and enjoy it. On all the climbs from there on out, I carried this same confidence. Because I had slipped and my belayers and rope had proven to me that they would catch me, I was freed to take risks and move forward, truly enjoying and delighting in the climb.
Alexis killin' her climb, per usual.
In thinking this over as the rock climbing trip came to a close, I was struck with the lesson this experience had allowed me. On both the first and following climbs the rope had me; this hadn’t changed. What changed was my perception of this truth—it moved from a head knowledge to wholehearted belief. Knowing that we are supposed to trust God, it is sometimes easy to think that we are trusting Him when operationally, we aren’t. On that first climb I was relying entirely on my own abilities to feel secure in my holds, all while believing that I trusted the rope. My climb, however, was a revealing indication of where I was truly putting my trust. Too often I let the uncertainty of my own grip paralyze me or I try to squirm my way out of the discomfort it creates, but it’s only through trusting in God my rope that I am freed to accomplish great things for Him. God has a plan for each of our climbs, even when we are in a place that prevents us from being able to determine the path that will allow us to get there.
In figuring out this next chapter of life, a sense of security in God as my rope and a willingness to let go gives me the freedom to go for it, to pursue different opportunities and be okay with slipping and falling along the way. Just like in my climb, trust doesn’t equate to passivity. It means actively seeking out foot and hand holds, pursuing a pathway by which I can complete the climb but ultimately believing that God will be the one to get me there. I want to make the conscious decision each day to choose trust and the life that flows from it, and if you’ve taken the time to read this I hope that it can encourage you in your endeavors towards the same.
Two thumbs up for an adventurous + WISE professor: Dr. ROCK.
The true sign of a good time.