Green Pastures

I attended a Christian college, and to some degree, that makes my experience different than most of the populace. One of the things that comes with the territory of a religious private school is mandatory chapel services. In my particular experience, we had two services a week. 

This may sound inconvenient, and at times it was. Weeks when I had a lot of homework, or when I was sick, or when I was not in the mood to be around friends, let alone an entire campus worth of people crammed into one room; in those times, chapel was not high on my list of priorities. 

With that being said, chapel is one of the things that I truly loved about my time there. It was a built-in moment to breathe and rest. It was an opportunity to relieve yourself of the stress and deadlines of school, momentarily.

Chapel also brings with it some traditions; certain songs and speakers. For example, the first chapel service of the year, the university’s president, Dr. Bowling, has all of the seniors stand up. He then goes on to give a speech. He tells them that getting to this moment, senior year, takes work and dedication. He says that this may be the end of their academic experience, at least for those who don’t seek out further education. He adds that this isn’t really the end. It’s just another beginning. 

Adult life begins, bringing with it heightened responsibility, expectations, and countless potential and opportunity.

As I look back on the beginning of senior year, I remember me, and my friends settled into our chapel seats, readying ourselves for another year. And as we had seen three times prior, Dr. Bowling, asked the seniors to stand. Only this time, he wasn’t asking strangers, he was asking us. 

I looked around the room and saw old and new friends alike standing, in a sea of memories. I looked at the faces of those I lived life with through some of my most formative years, and I couldn’t help but smile. We had made it; we had arrived. 

Before he closed his speech, Dr. Bowling, gave us something to work towards. He gave us our marching orders; Finish strong.

Not long after though, he also had the freshmen and transfer students stand, another tradition that we had at the beginning of every year. He gave a similar speech to them. However, there was a different closing sentiment. Looking upon the faces of what can only be described as children, these words were bequeathed onto them; Start well.

I’ve realized much of life is cyclical. College is no different. There is a cycle of birth and rebirth, beginnings and endings, starting and finishing. 

I’ve realized much of life is cyclical. College is no different. There is a cycle of birth and rebirth; beginnings and endings; starting and finishing. 

I spent much of life looking to be somewhere different than where I was. When I was ten, I wanted to be fifteen. When I was in middle school, I wanted to be in high school. I lacked a sense of contentedness with where I was in life. This is still something I battle today.

I struggle with keeping too firm an eye on the future and what might be around the corner for me. 

For much of my life, college had been the thing, it was what I had set my sights on. College was what I was working towards, and what I had dreamed of since I was just a boy listening to stories of my parents’ and grandparents’ experiences. College was what I wanted.

I remember thinking as I sat in my seat that early fall morning, I’m almost done.There was a light at the end of this tunnel, and I found myself once again looking down the barrel of a potential future. Wanting to be there; wanting to arrive; thinking about the future that was just beyond my reach. 

Although looking back, I think I had missed the point.

I’m reminded of a story my mother told my brothers and me when we were just children. It’s a tale of the three Billy Goats Gruff. 

For those unfamiliar with this story, let me sum it up for you. There are these three Billy Goats- in my mom’s version of the story they were brothers- and the Billy Goats live in a beautiful green pasture, perfect for grazing. 

They lived contentedly, that is until they set their gaze upon a new, seemingly better pasture. They couldn’t get the new plot of land out of their minds. It was so green and lush, it was what they had been looking for, or so they thought. One problem lay between them and this pasture, a bridge, which was guarded by a troll.

To make a long story marginally shorter, the troll refused them passage. However, they couldn’t give up on their desire and lust over the almost unobtainable pasture. 

Therefore, they chose to attempt to sneak over the bridge, and in the process, two of the Billy Goats were eaten. However, the youngest finally made his way over the bridge, and albeit sad over the loss of his brothers, he reveled in the bounty of his success. But there was another problem. The pasture wasn’t what he had expected. It wasn’t as green, or luscious as he had formerly thought. With this realization, his heart was overcome with sadness and grief.

The moral of this surprisingly dark story was that the Billy Goats had become so consumed with what lie ahead of them, what they didn’t have, that they missed out on what they did have. 

I fear that many of us waste so much precious time wanting more, or just wanting differently. 

We become consumed to the point of discontent with where we are and what we have. As I sat in chapel and looked on as the new students received their call to start well, I pondered the truth and beauty that lie in these two speeches. 

We all are called to start well in this life, and not just in college. We need to start well in our jobs, our relationships, and in our health. Every chapter has a beginning, and we are called to put our best foot forward. 

However, we are also called to finish strong. Every season in life ends. Maybe we transition from one job into another, or maybe we have to end one relationship to put ourselves into the position for a relationship that will be healthy for both people.

College, like life, is cyclical. It has a beginning and an ending. However, the key is to not get so caught up in the start or the finish, but to merely live in the in-between. 

I heard once that a gravestone has two dates on it; the day a person is born, and the day that they die. What connects those dates is a hyphen. That little dash is the culmination, the entirety of that person’s life, which begs the question; how will you live so that you finish strong

How will you live so that you finish strong?

Was there ever a movie you really loved? Like, I mean, a movie you were truly crazy about. When I was much younger, and DVDs were a relatively new concept, there was a movie that I would watch over and over again, called Extreme Days. It was sort of like a security blanket for me. If I was sick, I would watch it and it will bring me comfort. If I was happy, and wanted to celebrate, I would watch it in triumph. If I was sad or angry, I would watch it and it soothe my heart. You get the picture. I loved this movie. I even owned three different copies of it, in case one broke.  

The movie will sound very dated now, but for a moment imagine living in the late 90’s and think about what was “cool” then. It was a road trip film, where four friends traveled across the country to skateboard, snowboard, paintball, and do whatever other extreme sports they could get their hands on. It was awesome, poignant, and funny. Looking back, it doesn’t hold up to the test of time, but I still adore this film.

The reason I tell you this is because early in the film, Will, the film’s narrator and one of the main characters, notes amid far reaching clips of snowboarding, “Life is a trip.” This works as a foreshadowing for the film, as well as a philosophy for the characters. Like the road trip, in life, the destination plays a background role to the much more important character, which is the journey in which we get to the destination.  

We spend much of life hoping to skip to the end, to arrive at the destination, whatever that may be for you, even though, there is so much potential and opportunity in the journey that gets us there. Life is an on-going cycle, and it can be tempting to get caught up in the end, but all that happens is that we forfeit the joy of the journey. 

The beauty of our chapel speech was the reminder that we are constantly starting and finishing chapters in our story. Rather than becoming focused on the pasture we left behind or the pasture that lies ahead, we should merely enjoy the pasture that we already inhabit.

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