I am typically not one to take life lessons from country music radio.
However, a popular song by Miranda Lambert has caught my attention. The song, “Automatic,” describes a societal shift 30 years in the making. This shift has taken us from hard work to immediate gratification, saving our pennies to having things handed to us, waiting our turn to pay to swiping a credit card.
Lambert laments that everything has become easy and automatic instead of requiring time, hard work and perseverance. One of her central messages is, “When everything is handed to you, it’s only worth the time put in.” I agree. We have moved from manual to automatic, and it’s not getting us anywhere.
As the vice president of admissions at Hesston (Kan.) College, I work with prospective students and their families. Opening Weekend is the best part of my year. We watch families arrive on campus and help them unpack their cars. We also witness an amazing transition begin to take place in students’ lives.
However, within these happy moments I see signs that the college transition has been impacted by this societal shift.
I began college roughly 15 years ago. My parents traveled to Hesston with me and helped me unpack and set up my room. They attended the parents’ orientation events and campus worship services. Then, at the end of the weekend, they wished me well and left. They knew college was a transition I would have to navigate. They knew I would have lonely moments. They knew I was scared, overwhelmed and intimidated—but they left me anyway. They left me because they knew I needed to learn how to persevere, function on my own, and, most of all, rely on God for comfort and direction.
In the last few years, I have noticed parents doing many of the same things my parents did, although in some situations they choose an alternate ending to Opening Weekend. After the suitcases are unpacked and the orientations are over, some parents allow for an event in addition to the weekend schedule, a moment when their son or daughter can decide to stay or return home. This moment wasn’t on my schedule 15 years ago because the option didn’t exist. When a son or daughter experiences the same feelings I had as I transitioned to college (scared, overwhelmed, intimidated) there is a new “automatic” option: to return home with their parents.
As I watch this take place, I wonder how returning home helps our children discover there are struggles worth “the time put in” and worth persevering through? How does this help us rely on God? Instead of using examples like waiting on sun tea to turn, or waiting three days for a letter in the mail, perhaps Lambert should have used the example of waiting on God to get us through, trusting that Christ Jesus is with us in our trials and offers us the strength to persevere.
This example also highlights issues facing our leaders and our church. When struggling through a tough budget year, a family crisis, a church disagreement or an employee who doesn’t seem to get it, do we allow ourselves to learn from the struggle, trust God to provide comfort and reveal a path forward? Or do we take drastic measures, pull the plug, withdraw from community, stick to what’s safe or blame others? Do we shift to automatic and do what we want instead of embarking on a struggle with Christ by our side? Do we take the road of pleasure and ease, instead of waiting for God to hear our cry in the mud?
Psalm 40 describes waiting and relying on the Lord. “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be astounded. They will put their trust in the Lord.”
Let’s give our children, the next generation, leaders and each other a “new song to sing” by welcoming opportunities to rely on God. Let’s push ourselves as leaders, parents, mentors and friends not to run from our struggles so we may learn to face them and discover what God would have us see. I’d rather gain wisdom from new songs sung by those throughout the church than having to pull wisdom from country music.
God doesn’t hand out faith and trust. That would make it “only worth the time put in.” Walk away from the temptation of making faith too simple, too easy or automatic. Instead, put in the time and the toil, embrace the feelings of being scared, overwhelmed and intimidated so that, with God’s Spirit at our sides, we can sing a new song, a hymn of praise to our God.
Rachel Swartzendruber Miller is vice president of admissions at Hesston (Kan.) College.
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