Decade of Discovery
By Shawnda Freer
Ten years ago, my husband and our two small children left our life as we had known it and embarked on a new adventure which took me back to the hallowed ground of my alma mater and into a new career path of student development. As the years have passed and our children are almost grown, personal and professional reflection has become a daily practice for me. In this milestone tenth year, I have been especially contemplative. Personally this year, my husband and I celebrated twenty-five years of marriage, our oldest child has graduated from high school, and my last grandparent passed away. Professionally, this tenth year has been one of looking back on the past decade, gleaning wisdom from multiple successes and challenges, and looking forward to what lies ahead. As I stand on that threshold, appreciating the past, engaging in the present and anticipating the future, the Lord has reminded me of His work in my life, and I am keenly aware that this has been a decade of discovery for me. In the spirit of ten, I share with you some of those discoveries with a prayer that the Lord may use them to encourage you both professionally and personally.
- Remember Purpose: Our work is simply the vehicle through which God achieves His purposes (Proverbs 19:21 English Standard Version). While grateful for my work, I have learned to hold my job loosely, as a steward. In so doing, I see more clearly the eternal moments God allows me to have with students, colleagues, family, and friends. A well-timed conversation with a student, a moment in the office to sit and reflect, a moving chapel service, an act of service to a colleague are all holy, sacred moments the Lord has allowed me to experience and to share with others.
- Pursue Vocation: There are a variety of stations or secondary callings through which our primary calling can be fulfilled (Guinness, 1998). God has gifted us uniquely with talents, skills, and interests. I have experienced freedom in knowing that I can love God with my heart, soul, mind, and strength in several settings and roles. Vocation for me is about living out who I am in response to how God has created me in any setting that He gives me.
- Prioritize People: Those of us who work in student development do not usually need be reminded that people matter more than tasks. However, sometimes the tyranny of the urgent clouds our ability to practice this belief. Recently while working simultaneously on two large administrative reports, I took a moment to enjoy the photos of students and family which fill my office. This simple act reminded me of the joy that comes from relationships and motivated me to complete the tasks at hand.
- Care for Self: We need to be models of Christ’s charge to live abundantly (John 10:10). In order to be a flourishing and thriving follower of Jesus, we need to honestly evaluate and practice how to best take care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Self-care is important and is not synonymous with self-indulgence. Jesus spent time alone and with his closest friends in addition to being available to the masses. I have lived through seasons when I was just surviving, not taking care of myself and every aspect of my life suffered. The spiritual disciplines of Sabbath, solitude, silence, simplicity, prayer, and study have been the best avenues for me to exercise self-care.
- Maintain Perspective: Life is not confined to campus life. It is important for us to engage with people and places unassociated with work. These outside experiences and perspectives have enhanced my work on campus and enriched my life more deeply.
- Practice Patience: Change in higher education takes time. Initially, this can seem frustrating to those of us who prefer action and results. However, I have come to appreciate the collective wisdom in carefully implementing change while preserving strong institutions and rich traditions.
- Share Knowledge: In the spirit of “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48), it is important to remember to share our knowledge and experience with others, professionally and personally. Often fear, insecurity, or time constraints prevent me from sharing with others. Sharing information with others can be mutually beneficial. When I teach, I learn.
- Value Wisdom: In the world of student development, there is a temptation to be a peer to our students because we work in a perpetual 18-22 year old culture. However, what students need from us is mentoring from our own wisdom gained through age and experience. Students seem to embrace this better than we do. I appreciate when the value of intergenerational experience within our departments is encouraged.
- Appreciate Colleagues: Most of us are blessed to work with other Christians who can spur us on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). However, not every professional relationship is equal; yet each relationship has purpose and meaning. It is wise to navigate the various levels of collegial relationships and recognize our fit within each one. Then, each relationship can be fully appreciated for the varied contexts and depths they represent.
- Engage Scripture: As Christians, the best thing we can do to engage in discipleship and foster spiritual growth for ourselves and our students is to emphasize God’s Word. God’s Word is powerful (Hebrews 4:12). We do not need to add to or take from it. God’s Word will do its work if we just get out of the way. An extensive research study by Willow Creek Community Church found that “… the most effective strategy for moving people forward in their journey of faith is biblical engagement. Not just getting people into the Bible when they’re in church…but helping them engage the Bible on their own outside of church” (Hawkins & Parkinson, 2011, p. 10). Some of my best conversations with students, family, and friends over the years have been discussions about what we are reading and learning from Scripture.
Reflecting on the past ten years of my personal and professional life allowed me to appreciate the past and gives me hope for the future. May the Lord continue to bless you and your work with students as you make your own discoveries.
Guinness, O. (1998). The call: Finding and fulfilling the central purpose of your life. Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group.
Hawkins, G. L., & Parkinson, C. (2011). Move: What 1,000 churches reveal about spiritual growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
CC Image "Taylor Lake, Taylor University, Upland, Ind." courtesy of Jim Garringer on Flickr