Sometimes school is one of my absolute favourite things.
I love the space to think and wrestle and engage in the “marketplace of ideas”. I love how the world comes alive and becomes increasingly more complex the more and more I learn. I love being challenged and I love that I can never reach the end of learning about both the resounding beauty and systemic brokenness of peoples and culture and society and the God who meets us in the midst of the wrestle and seeking and growing. I love libraries and I love coffee shops and, I even love writing papers.
Most of the time.
Because, sometimes school is the absolute last place I want to be. The pressure of papers and research and formulating intelligent and well-processed ideas feels daunting. The stack of books on my desk stands not as an opportunity to learn or as welcoming pages of words and the exploration of the world and the people who live here, but as a constant reminder that I have an overwhelming amount of work to do and a constant insecurity that I will never know enough to have an authoritative or wise voice on anything. Deadlines loom and with them, too many nights of too much coffee and too little sleep.
I’m devoting incredible amounts of physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual energy into the pursuit of a well-rounded education. I’m wracking up student loans that scare me and sometimes all I feel I’m learning is that the world is an incredibly broken place and my increasingly full bookshelves and “area of expertise” only testifies to the depth and severity of that brokenness.
And consequently, so often, all I want to do is slam my books shut and quit school. Because sometimes the reality of the educational process seems so overwhelming and so incredibly distant from why I’m in school.
Because at the core of it, I just want my life to make a lasting difference. I just want my education to mean something to someone more than myself. I want to see change and I want to see justice won in places where it feels distant and lost. I want to see peace grow in the aftermath of war and I want to see governments and laws based on truth and righteousness govern our nation and the way we care for and engage with the nations at our doorstep.
And I’m incredibly impatient.
Because I just want to go now.
Two weeks ago, I seriously considered taking the semester off, billing a plane ticket to Lebanon on my VISA, and showing up at a UNHCR refugee camp ready to hand out water and food (and whatever else could be done to help) to the influx of Syrian refugees.
I just wanted to do something – anything – that would make a tangible difference. And felt like a bit of a hypocrite sitting in Starbucks studying about the development of human rights norms and laws, reading my daily copy of the Globe and Mail, and trying to take one step closer to a career that would maybe (idealistically?) allow me to make a difference.
Because more than 2.1 million people in Syria have been forced out of their country due to bloody civil war. Some have even gone so far as to call it “the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time”, and yet, my education has awarded me the comforting knowledge that those two million people are only a sliver of the 45.2 million (and growing) forcibly displaced people around the globe today.
45.2 million refugees. 27 million modern-day slaves. 345 million people without access to clean water. One in ten Canadians living below the poverty line. And I haven’t even said anything about political tensions or wars or diseases or the shortcomings of our educational systems.
The statistics are staggering. And entirely heart breaking.
And if I know anything about my generation is that we’re a generation that wants to do something. We want to step into those huge issues and make a tangible difference. We hunger for justice and we have direct access to the increasingly globalised world in a way that no generation prior has seen.
And, with great freedom comes great responsibility, right?
We feel the weight of the pressure. We’re inundated by documentaries and statistics and news stories from across the globe and from our own cities that pull at our hearts and invoke anger. Everything in us knows this is not how things should be. As followers of Jesus, we ache for the redemption and renewal of countless issues and of society as a whole. And yet, our current reality is books and papers and late-nights at the library and the stress of student loans. Most of us are working part-time to make ends meet because the benefit of this education comes at an incredibly high cost.
The discrepancy between what we want and what is current reality couldn’t feel more distant.
When I finished my undergrad, I was pretty disillusioned by the education system and so tired of my head knowledge being just head knowledge. I had been presented with the opportunity to spend some time doing short-term missions overseas (in one of countless examples of what I now believe to be the goodness of God’s sovereignty in my story), and credit both a growing desire to make a difference (somehow) and growing restlessness with my current reality, I went.
I walked the dirt streets of Cambodia and saw and smelled the slums of Phnom Penh. I cried my way through the Khmer Rouge memorial and desperately prayed my way through red light districts in Thailand and Amsterdam. I stood on the streets of London and saw the paradoxical juxtaposition of urban poverty against the stunning architecture of the monarchy. I stood on a hill in the West Bank and wept over the brokenness of Palestine and the tensions in Israel.
I saw and experienced and felt more in that space than I knew was possible. And with every face and story and issue I encountered, I learned how absolutely little I knew.
Yet, even with my limited education and lack of experience, I saw gaps in systems of governance and could clearly see (well-intended) social initiatives failing. I saw the blatant shortcomings of short-term investments. I learned about laws and loop-holes that left people trapped in systems of injustice and I heard the inspiring first hand accounts of countless men and women who have given their lives and careers and educations in the pursuit of justice and renewal and change in their villages and cities and nations.
And in that space, with every story, I knew I needed to come back to school. I knew I needed to go deeper and to wrestle my way through these systemic issues. Not because I thought I would find an easy answer or series of easier answers (it would appear that there are no such things), but because the importance of these issues mandated a response that was as wise and well educated as was possible.
And so, I chose this. Not because I’m particularly brilliant (I’m definitely not) or especially compassionate (I’m certainly not) or have a corner on the market of ideas (not even close). I chose this because every detour and chapter of my story and God’s faithfulness throughout it pointed me here. I chose this because He’s worth everything and this is only a tiny piece of what that might look like in my lifetime. I chose to engage in the issues that my heart aches for through the lens of academia and political studies and law even when the prospect of such scares me.
Sometimes I think it was/is a stellar decision.
And sometimes I think I was/am completely crazy.
Gary Haugen, the president and founder of International Justice Mission (IJM) has wisely said that the pursuit of justice is “long, labourious, and boring.” The pursuit of justice and righteousness and goodness in the world, in our cities, and in our neighbourhoods – no matter what sphere of society we stake a claim in – takes time. And requires a wisdom that is won through time and experience and education. We need the constant conviction that what we’re doing, even when we don’t see the results, is worth the time and money and effort. (Because, really, it’s far less about what we’re doing than about the God who is working in and through us in every season and place and moment.)
And so, I have to preach this to myself almost daily: this season matters. This place matters. These papers and these hard-fought lessons and this wrestling through tough ideas matters. And it matters for more than just to get us to an eventual end goal of a “career” or whatever we’re headed towards. It matters in and of itself – because it’s changing us and growing us and making us better people (and hopefully more like and more dependent upon Jesus) in the process.
Because the world doesn’t need young men and women who live by a knee-deep definition of passion. The world – and our country and the church – needs men and women who are humble and steadfast and who know that no one idea or initiative is the answer to the complexity of issues we face. We need well-trained and well-thought men and women captivated by the bigger picture of a God making all things right and good, who are willing to go deep and invest for the long-haul and to stick it out even when we feel like we aren’t getting anywhere.
And that takes time. It takes countless long and boring days and it takes constantly reminding ourselves that this opportunity to even have an education of this calibre and the realistic possibility of careers and lives that are laced with impact and influence puts us amongst the wealthiest and most fortunate in the world.
You want to change the world? I do too. And I think we will.
But if we want to do it right, we have to give this time. And right now, we have to hit the books.
[originally written for TWU Impact]