The saxophone’s crying wakes me. It’s inconsolable, and its melancholy is contagious. It induces me to hold vigil for painful memories I buried long ago. I don’t know the piece my 13 year old son is playing in his room, but I do know it’s causing a lump in my throat. And I know God’s given him the gift of music. He plays other instruments and wants to learn to play several more. Even though he is in middle school, he already talks about attending college and majoring in music. One day, he will have to choose which college to attend. But I wonder if the choice is his to make.
We have several friends with children older than ours who are going through the laborious process of applying to colleges. They criss-cross the country visiting colleges, attend college tours, join summer programs, fill out endless applications, and do everything they can to secure admissions for their sons and daughters at the most prestigious of schools. Today, the college admission process can become a full-time job, and strategies abound on how students can nudge their way past their peers to secure a coveted admission slot. But what if all this effort was misplaced? What if the choice wasn’t ours to make? What if God cared what college our kids attended? And what if the criteria we were relying upon was not God’s criteria?
Choosing a college is not much different than choosing an occupation, a church, or even a spouse. It’s a significant decision that will change one’s life. Based on the efforts most parents invest in this decision, they would agree with this assessment. So if the decision is so profound, one would think God would want some input. In fact, He probably has a college in mind for our kids (just as He has a job or a spouse in mind for them as they grow older). If we believe God is in control, and that He knew us before we were yet born, then He has a plan for us, and that plan includes whether to attend college, and if so, where. Of course we can ignore that plan, and God being God can as a GPS, recalculate, and help us make the best of a wrong decision. But wouldn’t it be better to make the right decision than repair a wrong one?
Some of you may not be convinced that God has picked out a college for your kids. Maybe He wants your son to attend a local state university rather than a private out-of-state one. Perhaps He prefers your daughter to attend a small Christian college rather than a sprawling university. Or perhaps He wants your son to ignore his admission to an Ivy League school to attend a much less prestigious school. But then again, God may want him to pass over a safe, nurturing Christian college for an Ivy League school. Or that out-of-state school may be his God-chosen destination. If we believe God is sovereign, and He has a plan for each of us, then maybe our human understanding falls short of what God wants for us, including where He wants our kids to attend college.
So let’s start with the premise that God already has a college in mind for our sons or daughters and that the open slot is waiting patiently for him or her to fill it. How do we get from where we are at now, debating between schools, to there, choosing the school God has already chosen? We could ignore God’s will and rely on our own judgments. But what if we rely on human reasoning and our sons miss out on meeting his God-designated future wife? Or what if we rely on conventional wisdom and our daughters miss connecting with a mentor that will direct her toward her God-designated occupation? Or conversely, they pick a college where they fall into the wrong crowd, succumb to an addiction or abandon their Christian walk? As we evaluate all the reasons to choose or not choose a given school, we realize that many factors are outside our control, many influences remain unseen, and there are so many moving parts just outside our peripheral vision, that to leave this decision to anyone other than God is folly.
If the goal is to choose what God had already chosen, we must first evaluate what gifts He has bestowed on our children. My older son has a plethora of musical gifts. He can pick up an instrument and learn in a few weeks what it takes many months, or even years, for another to learn. That talent is not man-made; it’s God-given. And when God gives us a talent, He wants us to develop it and use it for His glory. Just as with the Parable of the Talents where the servants who were found faithful doubled their talents, God wants our kids to develop their talents and use them to advance His kingdom. As parents, we need to help our children identify their talents, nurture those talents and pray with them, seeking God’s direction on how to use those talents. By seeking out God’s will in their lives each and every day through prayer, eventually you should discover what vocation God has in mind for them. Sometimes God will reveal that to you when they’re young. Sometimes, it takes much longer. Be patient, keep praying and keep developing your children’s talents.
A point will come, and you may already be there, when it is time to choose a college. Do your due diligence. Visit schools. Peruse websites. Read the college standings. Discuss it with friends. But don’t stop there. These efforts will help you make the decision the world wants you to make. Take it a step further, and pray each step along the way, to seek out the decision God wants your child to make. Pray that God reveals to you what college your child should attend. Ask your church, friends and family to pray for your child. You want God’s hand directing your decision, and you want to concentrate your efforts to discover God’s will in your child’s life. The days of the burning bushes and the sky opening with angels appearing are behind us. But God still speaks to us. We just need to learn to listen. The school that rejected your son, the one he really wanted to attend, may have been God closing a door to an opportunity that would have caused him to stumble. The scholarship your daughter missed out on may be God’s way of saying to look elsewhere. God knows how strong willed His children are, and sometimes He has to say no for us, because we don’t have the discernment to do it ourselves.
Accept when God closes doors. Be sensitive when He presents opportunities. Don’t limit yourself to the world’s options. Conversely, don’t presume God wants you to pursue a degree in Biblical studies simply because you are a Christian. Don’t speculate, prejudge or guess about God’s will. And through it all, know that God wants you to seek out His will not only to ensure you follow His plan for your life, but in doing so, to grow closer to Him. You cannot earnestly seek out God’s will without also experiencing His love.
And when God reveals Himself to your family and opens your eyes and your heart as to what school He wants your children to attend and what vocation He wants them to pursue, remember the folks He chose. He chose fishermen and shepherds, tent makers and tax collectors – ordinary men who did extraordinary things through Him. He sought those who sought out His heart and His will, who lived by faith and who trusted His Word.
Likewise, God has already chosen for your kids their future, and it may not be the one you or the world envisions for them, but it is the one that will bring them the greatest joy and satisfaction, the most love and contentment. And if you accept that God’s plan for your kids is better than any plan you can devise, you and your kids will stop asking to be admitted to their favorite school and will start asking for wisdom to choose the school He’s already picked for them. If you approach the college admission process in this manner, you realize you’re not asking God to bless your choice, but you’re asking Him to reveal to you the choice He already made.