It’s that time of year in my town. Co-eds choose the same dream I chased in the 80s. Of course, not all go as I did — some do go to see and savor and thank God for His amazing world. But, many go because of a deficit inside. An “I’ll find myself, I’ll like myself, I’ll recreate myself if I go study somewhere far way.” France. Australia. Italy. For me, England and Scotland called.
Each noon that glorious semester, Brit Rail passes swept us away from mornings in our Oxford classroom and off to London’s plays and palaces and museums, or to traipse among hills of rolling green walled by ancient stone. Afternoons were spent souvenir buying, Shakespeare visiting, off-the-beaten-path discovering, and all made more special because explored with new-found kindred spirits. Friendships formed with other American college students at the Tower of London and from the top of a red double-decker bus carried over to Scotland-bound sleeper trains and quaint B&Bs. Jaunts across the Channel to see Mona Lisa, and quests on wind-swept lakes to spot the Loch Ness Monster will always be part of me.
I went. I saw. I grew. It was amazing.
But I returned home the same.
Still the same inside
I was not a Christian when I studied abroad. I went on a search for fulfilling experiences, and I hoped I’d come home fulfilled. I went on a search for escape — escape from an American campus life that wasn’t panning out as I’d hoped — and I thought for sure that I’d come back a new and improved me. I went because a professor told captivating stories of places I longed to see. And somehow, I’d find myself while there. I’d return to life in the U.S. and I’d have arrived — my insecurities and fears would be left on the other side of the Atlantic. I’d be stronger and smarter and prettier. I’d like the newly-transformed-while-abroad me.
But I came back the same me on the inside. For memories of invigorating Scottish breezes while searching for Nessie don’t sustain in ways that lead to Life.
And I’m glad
All these years later, I see God’s great kindness in that He brought me back, full of stories and amazing memories, yes; but, unchanged on the inside. Still searching. Still scared and performing and unhappy. The escape to far-away soil hadn’t wrought transformation that mattered.
I pause and breathe a word of thanks, as I now know that He had greater plans for me. For if European travel had met all my felt-needs, I’d not have yearned for more. I wasn’t sure what more was exactly, but I acknowledged after the glow of travel wore off that I was still empty inside. I’d traveled great distances, but still floundered without a compass. I pretended on the outside, but I was miserable on the inside.
I breathe a word of thanks because His greater plan included that I would soon come to know Him.
Why this recounting?
So, I write not just as a stroll down memory lane, but to urge you to notice and see beneath the facades of the people around you. You may be in a season of exhaustion yourself, but as a believer, you have a hope those without Christ do not have — you have the surety of Jesus’ love given, and His mercy and grace poured out upon your soul. Give that news to those who are still drowning, still suffocated by the world’s squeeze, still hope-less and alone. Notice those around you!
College students headed off to study abroad may be just as I was, searching for identity and for relief from the pressure of maintaining an outwardly-perfect life. Young professionals may seem put-together and happy — they may perform well in the workplace and play hard afterwards — but they may actually be drowning on the inside. Women you pass daily might smile, but the smile may mask what they dare not acknowledge — that they feel empty and joyless, as if they are imploding.
Just as I was.
Be for them as she was for me
My outward facade may have fooled some. But one young woman was not fooled. She noticed and invited and asked, until I finally went to a Bible study with her. She noticed and asked some more, until I finally went to church with her. And she invited and invited, until I finally went to a Christian conference, where all I’d been hearing came together and I finally understood the gospel. The Holy Spirit worked, and I bowed my knee to Jesus, and rejoiced as He saved me.
Be her for some other dying person! Ask God to give you discernment, to use you in the lives of the women around you. Ask Him to speak His Life-giving truth through you. Notice them. Reach out to them. Invite them. Love them. Bring them to the Rescuer of their soul! Pray for them, and then be the feet, bringing the good news of the Life-giving happiness of salvation.
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation …” (Isaiah 52:7)