3 Ways Graduation and Other “Disruptions” Lead to Growth

Guest post by Sam Van Eman

Disruption typically comes in two forms—as an out-of-the-blue surprise, and as a right-there-on-the-calendar event. When I was one month into seventh grade, my uncle drove through the night to load up our bare essentials and take our family to a safe place away from dad. That came as a surprise. Even though I knew things weren’t good for mom, packing a station wagon and driving a thousand miles instead of riding the bus across town to homeroom is not something you expect to happen.

On the other hand, when I left my job as a public school teacher to join a non-profit and earn my salary through fundraising, the “disruption” came as a right-there-on-the-calendar event. I had signed up for it on purpose.

Both were a bit scary. Both took me to new places as a disciple of Christ. Both were valuable contributions to my understanding of growth.

While surprise ‘disruptions’ may stretch us beyond what we think we can bear, even planned challenges often require a great deal of moxie. Doing something hard on purpose amounts to a willful disruption of life as we know it. The first-century apostle James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers [and sisters], whenever you face trials of many kinds….” (1:2). James was referring to surprises and uninvited hardship, the first kind of disruption. But Jesus also seems to appreciate those rare people who look discomfort in the face and say, “May I have two scoops of that, please?”

Why would anyone sign up for a challenge when we have enough coming at us already? I’ll suggest three reasons:

First, because we know it’s good for us. When the poor woman gave her coins despite living in poverty, she demonstrated trust that God would provide (Luke 21:1-4). She had moxie.

Second, because we don’t actually know what’s going to happen. We often underestimate the implications until we’ve already signed up. It’s like getting into the roller coaster line: reality doesn’t hit until the bar clicks down on your lap. Believe it or not, this is good—otherwise, we’d agree to far fewer challenges. Graduation is similar. We all knew graduation was part of the college experience but in our minds it was a cross between a vague finish line and a formal event with gowns and diplomas. As it turned out, graduation proved to be more than pomp and circumstance, more than a guest speech in the convocation hall, even more than a finish line. That day was the event—the thing we signed up for years earlier, but unexpectedly it became the beginning of a chapter unlike any we had experienced before.

Think about it: in one closing moment, we said goodbye to ready-made meals and advisors suggesting the best schedule forward. We said goodbye to minimal responsibility, one-on-one attention from faculty, and endless opportunities for extra-curriculars and entertainment. We also said goodbye to people who made us better and helped us follow Jesus.

Suddenly, the bar clicked down on our laps.

This thing that looked doable was really the introduction to something hard, which means it is a bit unfair to separate the two types of disruptions. Sometimes the calendar event becomes the surprise. The voluntary experience turns into an unexpected challenge, like it did for my friend who agreed to run a marathon for the blind. It was a planned event, but he did not know how it would change the way he sees the world after guiding a runner by hand for 26 miles.

Graduation and marathons and unplugging from a secure salary are more than—and better than—what they appear to be. And that is the third reason we’re inclined to sign up: the possibility for gain.

Despite the temptation to quickly pay off loans, buy a house, and situate ourselves into a cozy neighborhood, we are drawn toward adventure. Insecurity and fear say otherwise, but it’s true: we love the thrill of what’s beyond the bend. The fishermen literally dropped their professional nets to see where Jesus would take them.

None of these events is a finish-line event. Each one is simply another of many starting points that leads to new places. What may have been an on-purpose sign-up becomes a smack upside the head by a new reality. And that reality asks whether we will follow Jesus or keep things comfortable as we head deeper into our twenties. The sooner we recover from one challenge, the better we will be able to handle the next.

Because we cannot afford to stay at our current maturity level, we pray, “Jesus, what do you have in store, and will you give me courage to sign up for it?”

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Sam Van Eman is a resource specialist for the CCO’s (Coalition for Christian Outreach) Experiential Designs team, where he co-creates transformational experiences for college students, professionals, and organizations. He is the author of On Earth as It Is in Advertising? Moving from Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope. His new book, Disruptive Discipleship: The Power of Breaking Routine to Kickstart Your Faith, is a practical, story-driven reminder that we can’t afford to stay at our current maturity level, and that, with courage, we can create space for God to grow us in faith, hope, and love. Order your copy below…

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