It was four years ago, around this time of year. The flat was silent, empty. I had just arrived home from university.
I didn’t even take my coat off. I just dropped my backpack, sank down on the floor, and cried my eyes out.
It would be two more years before the doctors worked it out, and by that time I was resigned to how my life was changing–how it would have to change if my condition grew worse. Sure, my condition isn’t fatal, but it’s grim, with no cure, no confirmed treatment, and a propensity for stealing your hearing bit by bit.
Four years ago, I was in the final term of my honors’ year at university and exploring the idea of a PhD. Sitting there in a puddle of saltwater and uncertainty that evening, I had no idea whether I’d make it out of bed the next day, never mind making it to the end of the term.
As the world tries to cope with a pandemic, I remember three lessons I had to learn when I faced an unknown chronic sickness, worried like many others are today about how this unknown threatened my education and graduation.
1. Do what you’ve got to do.
As they readied themselves for war, it’s said that Oliver Cromwell gave his troops this piece of advice: “Trust God and keep your powder dry.”
In simple terms, trust God and be prepared to act.
Many of you have had your exams postponed or interrupted, and your studies moved online at best or cancelled at worst. You may have been about to graduate high school, with acceptance into the university of your dreams, only to be left not knowing whether you can go after all. Perhaps you attend a state school and find yourself having to untangle how online schooling works. In these unsettling times, it’s hard to know what to do, but the answer is simple: trust God and keep your powder dry.
Our lives have been forced to change, but we can still make good use of the time.
My sickness meant there were days when I literally couldn’t read. I was struggling even to string sentences together. How do you write a ten thousand word dissertation like that?
When we find ourselves with new struggles, we have to learn new ways to deal with them. We should strive to do our utmost despite the limitations placed upon us.
School may be cancelled, but there are still ways you can learn. If you’re getting work sent home with you, give it all you’ve got and send it back in good time. If your break has been extended, teach yourself something you’ve always wanted to learn. There is an abundance of free resources and tutorials available online.
Work hard at what you can while you can, but what if you still don’t manage to pass your year? What if you try your best and work your hardest and circumstances conspire against you to prevent you from finishing well–or finishing at all?
Therein lies the other half of Cromwell’s advice: trust God.
As someone who rarely dropped below a B in my exams, the idea of failing a year or having to defer graduation was unthinkable. It made the second lesson particularly hard.
2. The future is certain.
Trusting God and doing your best is all you really can do. The truth is that despite the disappointment of not graduating (or having to delay), it’s not that important at the end of the day.
It’s hard to hear it now, when you’ve put so much time and money into education, but having a degree is not everything. You have to trust God that he will work out his purposes for your life. Yes, it might take longer to get where you want to go, or you might have to return to school and catch up, but God’s plans are never thwarted.
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).
Although it looks scary from where you’re standing, if you’ve done your best, people will respect that, and if you’re trusting God, you have no reason to be afraid. Be faithful through these trials and people will recognize that in you.
Sufferers of chronic illness down through the ages have had to come to terms with this. We understand what you’re going through, and we can testify that God is faithful through it all. He provides for his people and that means he will provide for you whether or not you graduate university (or even attend to begin with).
The world is going nuts, but here’s the ultimate truth you can’t ever let go:
3. God is still on the throne.
At no point did God nip away for a cup of tea, leaving the universe to its own devices. He is completely sovereign, and he is firmly seated in the throne room of heaven, ruling and directing the world. Everything from the colossal blue whale to the minuscule Covid-19 to your exam grades (or lack thereof) is bound by his perfect will.
It’s difficult not knowing what will happen tomorrow, but you didn’t know that before the virus either. God was on his throne then, and he hasn’t moved now. He loves and cares for his people, and that love and care doesn’t change.It's difficult not knowing what will happen tomorrow, but you didn’t know that before the virus either. God was on his throne then, and he hasn't moved now. Click To Tweet
Four years after that tearful episode on the living room floor of my flat, I was sitting up after midnight. I was just off the phone with the doctor because I had a fever that wouldn’t break and a cough that was making my chest tighter and my breathing shorter. I was facing a 3AM appointment at the hospital alone, with presumed Covid-19. Of course I cried. Who knew what the night held, never mind the next day.
But even as I snuffled and tried to steady my breathing for another puff of my inhaler, I reached for the Psalms.
Psalm 6: ‘Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled’ becomes ‘The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.’
Psalm 7: ‘O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge.’
Psalm 9: ‘those who know your name out their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.’
Those words are still true. And do you know what else is still true?
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
You might not finish your degree after all. You might have to learn to do school very differently from what you’re used to. It may take you longer to achieve your dreams than you had hoped, and you may find yourself struggling with all of the unknowns. But trust God and do what you can, because, ‘The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is on our side.”