I think one of the reasons I delight in teaching college students is because they are in many ways the epitome of possibility.
Many of the students in my classes are only just now figuring out who they are, or who they want to be. They’re breaking away from their parents, some of them for the first time ever, stretching their wings, making “grown-up” decisions. This is a wonderful thing, and it comes with no small share of uncertainty and fear – but the best part is that most of my students paper over that anxiety with absolute, unearned, of-course-I-know-what-I’m-doing confidence.
They think they know everything. And it’s hysterical.
They will read a collection of Greek myths and then turn around and say, with no hint of irony, that they’re “really into studying mythology and culture” as though they’re walking encyclopedias of human history. They’ll read a chapter of Foucault and immediately start introducing it to everyone they meet as though no one else in the universe has ever heard of him. They’ll write about their life experiences in their narrative essays in this world-weary, age-old tone. “Back when I was in high school,” they say, as if that wasn’t less than a couple of years ago, “I was so immature, you know? But I’ve changed.”
They’re still immature. They just don’t know it.
We all are. And that’s why I delight in my students so much. I was them. I remember, during Christmas holidays when I was home from college, feeling like I had officially become An Adult. I was so concerned with acting, looking, playing the part. I was sophisticated, I felt. I was grown. Now, looking back at those days from the vantage of thirty-five years old, I laugh. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no concept of what I had yet to learn, or of what I was capable of. I was so convinced I had reached my potential then that I had no idea of what my potential really was.
That remains true. I’m wiser (I think, I hope) at 35 than I was in my late teens and early twenties. But I am also not anywhere as wise as I can be or should be. I have so much still to learn and to grow into, and I will when I am forty, when I’m fifty, when I’m ninety-two, should God allow me to live that long. I hope that my whole life long I can look back five years or ten and chuckle at what I thought I knew, only to realize there’s so much more growth ahead.
In Ephesians 3:17-19 Paul writes of his hopes that “you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” It is a lifetime journey. I think I get it right now. Right now, I feel as much as I have ever felt that I have grasped Christ’s love and what it means and to grow in that. But when I look at my students, it’s a reminder that regardless of how much I feel I’ve grasped, I will look up in two or ten or twenty years and realize that there’s so much more to it than I initially imagined.
What a gift!