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College Regrets and Celebrations

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

they shall be as white as snow;

though they are red as crimson,

they shall be like wool.

If you are willing and obedient,

you will eat the good things of the land;

but if you resist and rebel,

you will be devoured by the sword.”

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 1:18-20

 

On the way to my niece’s high school graduation, I struggled to recall any of my own commencement memories. I’m sure I walked a stage and shook someone’s hand, but I don’t remember where or whose. If there is a cap and tassel anywhere in this house, it’s probably covered in dust alongside my high school diploma. 

High school was not a highlight for me, and the memories I do have are not all that memorable. Not only did I fail to form strong friendships, but I also didn’t have strong adult mentors to guide me. So, I headed off to college without a clear sense of what I wanted to achieve or what might be expected of me as a college student.

 

When I look back at my younger self, I have plenty of regrets. Some are due to my own bad choices, but many are a result of circumstances I was ill-equipped to handle. The rules I learned in my parents’ home did not apply in my college dorm. For example, both of my roommates smoked, which I did not appreciate but learned to tolerate. Sometimes boys slept over. Everyone said it was acceptable, so who was I to argue? The legal drinking age was 18 at the time, so every dorm room was well stocked, which often made getting to class on time difficult.

 

As an impressionable teen who wanted to fit in but lacked worldly knowledge, I chose to follow the crowd. Blending in seemed wiser than standing out. If I had known then what I know now, I hope I would have made different choices.

 

In the book of Nehemiah, we read that the Jewish people who had been exiled to Babylon seventy years prior return to rebuild the demolished wall surrounding Jerusalem. When the work was completed, they gathered to hear Ezra, the scribe and priest, read from the Book of the Law of Moses. “He read it aloud from daybreak till noon … and all the people listened attentively …” (Nehemiah 8:3).

 

We refer to The Book of the Law of Moses as the Torah or Pentateuch, which consist of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Ezra reads these scrolls for roughly six hours straight while the people listen carefully. Scripture tells us they are so moved by what they hear that respond by weeping. What brought them to tears?

 

Awareness of their sin.


Years earlier, before Jerusalem was destroyed, the Lord’s prophets warned the people, “Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the Lord gave to you and your ancestors for ever and ever. Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not arouse my anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you” (Jeremiah 25:4-6).


But the people did not listen. Babylon sacked Jerusalem and carried all the rich, powerful, and artistic Israelites into captivity for seventy years. The people left behind were the poor—farmers and shepherds. Both groups came together to repair the wall and hear the word of the Lord. When they heard Ezra read, they cried for all they had lost because they chose to follow false gods.


When I started reading the Bible, I too was often moved to tears for the same reason as the Israelites: Awareness of my own sin. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).


Aristotle believed that crying in response to pain, disappointment, or grief could purify the mind. I believe righteous tears also purify the soul. Tears of true repentance have the power to wash our souls clean and reveal the clear path forward. “This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). God does not ask us to wallow in our mistakes; he asks us to repent, turn from our wicked ways, and celebrate our redemption.  


I sometimes wish I could go back in time and relive the college experience differently, tapping into the knowledge and faith I have today. But then I remind myself that Jesus doesn’t require us to go back and clean up our mess. He did it for us. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Now that is truly something to celebrate!


THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND is Let the Redeemed by Josh Baldwin

Favorite lyric: There is joy in the morning springing up in my soul. There is life worth living ‘cause He calls me his own.”

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