Cutting Corners Won’t Cut It

Three years ago I couldn’t imagine going back to college. I had already gone that route and hated it. Reading dry textbooks, listening to boring lectures, and writing about things that don’t matter to me and shouldn’t matter to anyone else was not my idea of a valuable use of time. I emerged from those three years like Shredder in the opening scene of Ninja Turtles Secret of the Ooze having earned an Associate of Science in Interior Design. I had zero intentions of going back.

Last week, I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Leadership with an emphasis in Christian Ministry—with distinction. I realize this is a dramatic departure from the scene I just described. Let me explain.

Several years ago, I started to sense the Holy Spirit might be calling me into a new direction. One day, I was perfectly happy with my life and the next day I was unsettled. Over the course of several months, I found myself wondering what it might look like to begin teaching, speaking, and writing professionally within the Christian community. Initially, I believed it was my ego talking. I was probably right, at least at first.

The story I made up in my mind was that those who teach, speak, write, and are paid to do these things, are popular, financially stable, influential, confident, and obviously had seminary degrees. Whether that was an accurate story or not, and trust me it’s not, those things attracted me. I immediately decided it couldn’t be the Holy Spirit if there was some personal benefit to me. After all, I was nothing like those people. I set the dream seedling aside to wilt and wither away—only it didn’t wilt or wither, it grew deep roots.

I spent the next couple of years redirecting my own thoughts. When I caught myself pondering what it would be like to begin writing, speaking, teaching, or pursuing a seminary education, knowing I’m often tempted down paths that are more self-serving than I care to admit, I would remind myself of the story I often told myself about myself. The story goes like this: I hate school, I’m a terrible student, and surely God would not be calling me to be any more than I already am.

After a couple of years of redirecting myself like a teacher redirecting a pencil-wielding preschooler away from electrical outlets, I realized my thought wasn’t going away. I decided maybe it was the Holy Spirit. If I couldn’t shake the thought, at the very least I needed to sit down and interrogate it.

I journaled through this process like an FBI agent trying to get critical information out of a suspect. Who are you? What do you want? Why are you bothering me now? Don’t you know I suck at school? Surely there are other ways to accomplish these goals. Maybe I can do the other things, but I can definitely cut the college corner.

After reflecting privately for a few months, it became clear that seminary was definitely part of God’s plan for my life. I began to tentatively imagine what I might study. Thinking about it was like wading into an unheated pool in the middle of summer—I went slowly. I took a step deeper into the water, got goosebumps, got used to it and then took another step. There are many times in life where I think a thought and cannon ball into the pool, ready to take on something new and exciting, but not this time. This time, I took it one goosebump-laden step at a time.

I started asking myself questions like what I specifically hoped to gain by attending and what I would do with the knowledge I would receive. I knew I wanted to write, teach, and speak professionally, but what would that look like? Where would I do those things and why do I need a seminary education to do them? There are plenty of successful, self-taught writers, teachers, and speakers out there and I respect many of them. Why was this step necessary?

All this time, I had been having these conversations in my own head. I didn’t dare say them out loud because I cared too much about what other people would think. Some people hold strong feelings about women attending seminary and they aren’t all positive. I did talk about it with my husband—he is my safe person. I knew how he felt and he was incredibly supportive, but I also deeply value the insight and feedback from a few specific people. I could have skipped talking to them, but then I would have exhausted myself making up stories about how they would react and what they would say when they finally found out.

I remember the day I felt brave enough to share my desire out loud with a friend. We were taking a walk along the American River. We maintained a walking pace that kept our heart rates at a light-cardio level, but didn’t inhibit meaningful conversation. It was also rattlesnake season. I remember that specifically because while I wanted share what I believe the Holy Spirit was whispering to me at just the right time in our conversation, I also wanted to avoid falling into a rattlesnake den.

This conversation was really important to me and to my process. Stepping into vulnerability and sharing my thoughts and emotions with someone was also a valuable part of the process. For so many reasons, I couldn’t skip this step. I needed to invite someone else into the space with me—someone who loved Jesus, loved me, and was wise and discerning. Her input was important and for the reasons I just shared, no matter how she responded, I knew I could trust her feedback.

I don’t know why I was surprised that she was thrilled with my news—she’s a 7 on the enneagram and is one of my most enthusiastic and positive friends! She is also not the sort of friend to blow smoke up my skirt. I could trust her enthusiasm. Throughout our friendship, I came to know how deeply she trusts the Holy Spirit’s guidance, how intimately she understands the nature of God (as best as we can in our deeply flawed humanity), and how committed she is to discerning her own life decisions through the lens of scripture.

Once our initial flurry of excitement settled down, being the creative and practical pair of friends we are, we got to work considering the remaining necessary steps it would take in order for me to pursue a seminary education. I confessed I had been hesitant because I had not yet completed my bachelor’s degree. Is this a corner I could cut or might there be some other way? We decided there probably wasn’t, at least not one worth pursuing. She said, “Why don’t you just find a local or online school with a Christian ministry program and do that?”

Remember the story I told you about at the beginning? The one where I hate school, I’m a terrible student, and God would never call me beyond who I currently was at the time? That story had played on loop in the background of my consciousness for nearly fifteen years. I never challenged the story, in fact I affirmed it verbally on multiple occasions, because there was no reason to change the story. Now there was—going back to school was a necessary step on my path to pursuing a seminary education.

So there I was with my dear friend walking along the river, the evil little rattlesnakes lurking in the tall grasses nearby, when I realized I needed to go back to school. I was going to be a student again. I had to read textbooks and listen to lectures. I had to do homework. The barrage of emotions I felt in that moment was overwhelming—excitement, fear, insecurity, joy, irritation, and strangely enough, peace. It was a lot, but then my friend said something really helpful.

She told me that in her experience, whenever someone has gone back to school as an adult, they have thoroughly enjoyed it because they weren’t trying to figure their life out. They were pursuing a subject they were passionate about. This was something I could truly embrace. We basically figured out my life in forty-give minutes and we didn’t get bitten by a rattlesnake—bonus!

As it turns out, there was a school just up the road a short ways and they had a degree program that was compelling enough to explore further. I will not bore you with all of the insignificant details, but what I will say is that within a few weeks I had an interview at the school and a couple of months later I began classes. In the three years I studied there, I met some incredible people, both peers and professors, and gained additional clarity about my way forward.

Most significantly, I was completely aware of God’s presence with me through that entire process. From my initial thoughts, to my conversation along the river, to taking my seat as a returning student, I knew God was with me. Isn’t it funny how I didn’t receive some marvelous and spectacular sign from God? Instead, I received dozens of nudges, hundreds of mini-confirmations, and thousands of reminders of God’s presence with me every step of the way—all the way up the steps and across the stage as I shook the president’s hand on graduation day.

It was challenging, it was time consuming, I had to let go of things I loved to make room for things I needed, but it was completely worth the sacrifice. While pursuing my bachelor’s degree, I learned that I’m a great writer. All of my professors said so and I began to believe it. I decided I didn’t need to wait for seminary to begin writing to offer people hope that God isn’t distant, but present with us.

I was fortunate that I learned some incredible leadership skills which I was able to immediately apply in my professional context. It was humbling to see my academic labor bear professional fruit right away. The skills I learned transformed my perspective, improved several working relationships, and changed how I engaged with my ministry teams. It was truly a gift.

I also rediscovered the joy of meditating deeply on the life of Jesus. While on earth, Jesus demonstrated the way to live in communion with the Father and loving community with my neighbor. Jesus showed us a different way. Re-learning these truths was the side-perk I didn’t anticipate. I also learned the skill of thinking critically about my faith. I discovered how to fully understand different perspectives without feeling threatened in my own faith.

Earlier today, the same friend who protected me from falling into a rattlesnake den called me to share a story about cutting corners. She knew I was working on this particular post. I thought it would be a fitting way to wrap up our time together. Anyway, a friend of hers has her child in tennis lessons and as part of the team warm up, the coach instructed the eager young players to run a few laps around the court.

When the kids reached the coach, she told one of the players, “You cut corners, go back and do it again!” So the player ran a couple more laps and when he reached the coach again, she said, “You cut corners again, go back and do it again!” This cycle repeated itself until the student was completely exhausted.

While in the car on his way home from practice, he told his mom he didn’t know what the coach meant about not cutting corners. Once she realized her aspiring young tennis player didn’t understand, she demonstrated what it meant to take the full lap. At the next practice, her child will be able to do it properly and join the rest of the team for a full practice.

Friends—as our young tennis student teaches us, cutting corners is exhausting. Every time we cut a corner, we cut out experiences designed to build endurance and character in us. Every part of our journey is intentional. There are truths we learn about God, about life, and about ourselves along the way. When we cut corners, we miss out on the struggle and joy of leaning into something difficult with God, who promises to be with us and help us.

As I reflect on the past three years, it went by so quickly. So much good came out of that season—it was a beautiful time of growth and sharpening. The process sanctified me. As I look ahead to September, when I will take my seat in my first seminary course, I will look back on this season with immense gratitude. It has prepared me for my next right thing and I because I finally took that full lap without cutting corners, I know God will be with me.

Friends, where are you tempted to cut corners right now and how might God be inviting you to take a full lap with him? I’d love to hear about it.

2 thoughts on “Cutting Corners Won’t Cut It

  1. It’s interesting that I found this post today. I was just talking to my husband about feeling “ready” to pursue writing as a career but a) having NO CLUE where to start and b) feeling like a total imposter. It’s really encouraging to hear your story. I don’t know that school is on my horizon, but maybe at least pursuing steps more seriously. And not trying to take short cuts.

    1. Thanks for sharing! I’m very glad you found my story encouraging. I appreciate where you currently find yourself—many of us have found ourselves in your shoes. I have found that sometimes identifying those steps that are not for you, or not for you right now, creates space for your next right thing to emerge. Have you read The Next Right Thing by Emily P Freeman?

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