It’s fall. My baby is headed back to school for her last year of college. Neither one of us can believe this ride is almost over. She has loved her four years, and she knew from the first time she set foot on the campus of Greenville College (now Greenville University) that she would love that place.
Her entire odyssey toward college was so different from mine. She got buckets of mail. Email, too, which is already quite different from my experience. I mean, I knew one guy in college who had this newfangled thing called an Apple PC. We were mystified by that desk-space-gobbling, green-gray, screened behemoth. Obviously, email was not a thing.
Since by this time of the year she already knew her pool of preferred schools—and in fact, she was already accepted to her top two—she didn’t need the mail. It went straight into the recycling bin. I listened to her click her tongue in annoyance at her phone and whine, “Another email from another school. Why won’t they quit bugging me?”
I could not comprehend this attitude.
I saved my college mail in brown-paper grocery bags. Several of them. I got a lot of college mail. I never threw any of it out. Not even the smallest postcard from some 154-plus liberal arts college in North Dakota I had no intention of inquiring after.
It didn’t annoy me. It fed me. I stored up every printed word that promised me, “We want you here.” It was a new feeling, and I was intoxicated. After an entire childhood of being the odd one out—the band geek, the book nerd, the weird kid with the blue glasses—I was sought after. Nowhere else on earth was anyone clamoring for my favor. Those colleges were.
I was thrilled to be wanted. Too thrilled. It became all that I was.
“You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy” (1 Peter 2:9–10 NLT).
I didn’t know then that the voice of God wanted to reach beyond that false acceptance with his words of certainty. You are chosen. You are my possession. You are able to show my goodness. You receive your identity as my child.
How might it have changed my hoarding ways to hear someone say God identified me as wanted beyond belief? That he had his mark on me as one of his own? At seventeen, I was hanging on to acceptance, even acceptance from places I never intended to go, from people I probably shouldn’t have listened to. I applied to only one college. One. It’s all I wanted or needed. I could have avoided all the junk clamoring for my attention, promising security and happiness and identity.
It’s still heady stuff, in my opinion. But what does it get you? Five paper bags of junk mail you don’t want, don’t need, and don’t know how to get out of your life.
The longer you hold on to acceptance from anyone but God, the harder it is to jettison that need. Your pile of junk mail might be stuffed in a corner, but what if you still need it? What if you just want to take it out and look at it from time to time? What if you want to feel the rush one more time, keeping it there for insurance, in case God isn’t quite enough sometime in the future?
I don’t remember when I stopped clinging to those flimsy, yellowed letters promising a kind of acceptance. They never really offered anything. The real offer came on other paper, also yellowed and worn with time, dripping with the voice of the Spirit:
You are chosen. You are God’s very own possession. Once you had no identity . . . now you are God’s. (1 Peter 2:9, my paraphrase)
Heady stuff, indeed.
I am glad, though my younger self would be mystified, that my daughter knew where she was headed and felt no need to seek acceptance in empty words cased in envelopes and paper bags. She knew who had ultimately accepted her and wasn’t looking elsewhere. I wish I had been so wise at seventeen. I’m thankful I know better today.
Jill Richardson is a writer, speaker, pastor, mom of three, and author of five books. She likes to travel, grow flowers, read Tolkien, and research her next project. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and dark chocolate. Her passion is partnering with the next generation of faith. Jill blogs at jillmrichardson.com.
Photograph © Freddy Castro, used with permission