Please welcome today’s guest writer, Chris Curia (’17). Chris, a graduate from the film and media department, is a youth director in a suburb of Grand Rapids, MI, whose other writings have been featured on Sojourners and RELEVANT magazines. You can keep up-to-date with his work by following his personal forum,Through the Darkness.
I recently grabbed drinks with some friends—a mixed bag of fellow Calvin alum and students—when one shouted into the void of blaring background music: “How have you changed most since your time at Calvin?”
I uncontrollably gasped, nearly choking on my Nutter Your Business Stout, and took the Lord’s name in vain as a rush of college memories came flooding back.
“I need another drink,” retorted the current Calvin student. We laughed, then quieted as we offered our minds, promptly and sincerely, to the question at hand.
One began by describing how much more confident in himself he’s become since graduating. The current student expressed his gratitude to Calvin for creating safe spaces to confront biases and challenge worldviews. Another swiftly agreed: “I’ve become a more open-minded, compassionate individual, and I attribute a lot of that to my time at Calvin.”
Suffice to say, we all felt like different people than our undergraduate selves, no matter how close or far-removed from those years we were.
As things quieted, all eyes turned to me—who, amidst a trip down memory lane, had completely forgotten to respond. “Well?” one of my friends chuckled in an “Earth to Chris!” kind of tone.
“Well,” I paused. “What’s become most clear to me is that I didn’t know shit about a lot of things when I graduated a year and a half ago.”
This realization has become my mantra—my antidote to the vertigo I’ve experienced amidst the transition into post-graduate life.
More on that later. But first, a word about stress.
A recent study by American Psychological Association concluded that post-graduate millennials (those born in the 1990s and early 2000s) exhibit higher rates of depression than preceding generations. “College provides a [protective] cocoon” to undergraduate students, one psychologist adds in a corresponding Washington Post article. Thus, it’s a rude awakening when that cushy college rug gets joltingly ripped from underneath upon entry into the “real world.” What’s more, in a digital age driven by the golden calf of comparison, a true thief of joy, even recognition of post-graduate depression is often a shameful, cultural taboo.
Indeed, being extracted from an education system that has dictated thought and action since childhood and thrusted into the professional world (or indefinite search thereof) has a way of producing existential quarter-life crises.
In my case, I graduated college and entered into vocational ministry, in which I spend countless hours sorting through existential crises of my own. And then I’m called to be a source of comfort and wisdom for students, parents, and volunteers. My work quickly became a burden too weighty to bear.
There’s a scene from Calvin alum Paul Schrader’s First Reformedthat so accurately depicts this perilous journey down the ministerial rabbit hole. In a combative session of pastoral counseling, Cedric the Entertainer’s Rev. Jeffers accuses Ethan Hawke’s Rev. Toller of spending too much time in the proverbial garden of Gethsemane, the dark night of his soul: “For you, every hour is the darkest hour. Even Jesus didn’t spend all his time in the garden.”
Especially in ministry, ideological viruses can spread like the plague; if we don’t take time to self-differentiate and maintain personal health, we lose ourselves in and alienate people with our psychospiritual contagion. That mixture of ideological infection with an unhealthy dose of post-graduate depression can be detrimental.
When I think back to that night at the bar and reflect on my own entry into the professional world, I cannot help but be amused and, indeed, grateful for a year of stupefying woes and whimsies.
When I graduated, I thought that I had everything figured out about my life, or at least the essentials—what I believed about God, how I wanted to live, and who mattered to me. Now, I’m a year and a half removed from my undergraduate career with little more than a semblance of direction. I’m a youth director who wakes up most mornings wondering if God is even real. I’m prone to weariness from the locational and spiritual uncertainty of my future.
But I’m also increasingly convinced that no matter the circumstance, disorientation is part of what it means to be human and grow into the grace and fullness that life has to offer. When we’re forced to see beyond ourselves, we learn gratitude through growing pains, even those we wouldn’t wish upon our worst enemy.
So, like the ancient prophet Isaiah writes, may you, too, find peace in the knowledge that when you walk through the fire, however disorienting it may be, you will not be burned. May you, too, grow mindful of the graceful art of loosening your hold on life to the point of losing it entirely. And in all things, may you find joy as you learn to reconcile not knowing shit about a lot of things.
“2015 Stress in America Snapshot.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, 10 Mar. 2016, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/snapshot.aspx.
Isaiah 43:2. The Holy Bible (NIV), Zondervan, 2017.
McCracken, Brett. “‘First Reformed’: 2018’s Most Thought-Provoking Film Thus Far.” The Gospel Coalition, The Gospel Coalition, 7 June 2018, www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-bad-religion-of-paul-schraders-first-reformed/.
Meadows-Fernandez, Rochaun. “There’s Such a Thing as Post-Graduation Depression. I Know: I Had It.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 6 Aug. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/theres-such-a-thing-as-post-graduation-depression-i-know-i-had-it/2017/08/04/4d163c6a-618d-11e7-a4f7-af34fc1d9d39_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.76ee60b2f0b7.
Schrader, Paul, director. First Reformed. A24, 2017.