by Ruby Dunn originally posted for PFE here.
It’s that time of year again - the leaves are beginning to turn, there’s a constant smell of damp in the air, everyone is wondering whether to turn the heating on just yet - and students are starting a new term.
As I’m a student in Scotland, I’ve been back at uni for a month already. I’ve been able to meet up for socially-distanced walks and coffees with friends over the last few weeks and they’ve all said the same thing: ‘it wasn’t supposed to be this way’. Because this year is a little different.
First years have left home to stay inside somewhere else, with unfamiliar people. Final year students are wondering if they will be able to attend a graduation ceremony. We’re spending our days not in lecture theatres or with friends but alone, staring at computer screens. News outlets are sharing stories of students self-isolating in halls, suffering from Covid-19 away from home. Medical professionals are warning of a student mental health crisis. I just want to be able to hug all the friends I haven’t seen in six months.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
So how can we deal with the fear of isolation, the uncertainty of the future and the disappointment of a year so different, and so much less, than we ever expected?
I don’t know if during lockdown you binged anything on Netflix, but over the summer I watched The Good Place [SPOILER ALERT: major spoilers ahead!].
In it, four people are in a place they are told is heaven, but somehow still isn’t perfect. Tahani can’t escape her insecurities, Jason finds himself pretending to be someone he isn’t, Eleanor realises she is not supposed to be in ‘the good place’ at all, and Chidi struggles to find a soulmate. In one episode Chidi says ‘It isn’t quite how I expected it, that’s all.’ It turns out that they aren’t in heaven after all.
I believe that we’re all discovering this at university this year. Uni and all the experiences we expect and are promised are not going to be how we imagined. It’s not the place we thought it would be. I think on a much bigger scale, the whole of the world - even the whole of life - is like that: full of unexpected, uncertainties, things that are not how they were supposed to be.
But how do we know that? 'In The Good Place, the characters only realised that they were not in heaven because they already knew that heaven was supposed to be perfect. Likewise, we can only be disappointed in the way things are right now if we have an expectation that the world should be a better place. If this world, and all its mess, is not the way things are supposed to be, that means there has to be something more.
What is that something more? What was all this supposed to be? The Bible says that when the world was new, when people first experienced life, it was good. But something went wrong. People turned away from the God who had made everything good. But God made a way for us to turn back to him - by coming as Jesus to the ‘not-supposed-to-be-like-this’ place of earth, where he experienced all the disappointment, fear, isolation and uncertainty that students like me are facing now. That’s right - God felt just as we feel. He doesn’t leave us alone in this.
This is good news! We’re right in what we’re saying: it isn’t supposed to be this way. It is meant to be so much better! It is supposed to be good. And the great news is that if we come to Him, Jesus gives us hope, because it is through him, his death and resurrection, that we can be certain that we will one day see the world as it is supposed to be: without fear, isolation or disappointment.
So no, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. But if we follow Him, Jesus will lead us to the way it was supposed to be.
Questions for further reflection
What do you think? What hopes did you have for this year? What disappointments are you facing at the moment? Do you think the world is supposed to be better than this?
Ruby Dunn is a second year history student at the University of St Andrews. When she isn’t writing essays and making endless cups of tea, she enjoys going on winter-y walks, reading poetry and crochet.
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