Welcome back, Calvin Theological Seminary Students! Whether you are an MDIV student like me or in a different program here at Calvin, it’s a new year and a new semester. With this fresh start, remember your goals, whether they were from the year you started or from the beginning of the previous semester. Discerning and revising our goals can be essential for growth. This may be your last semester, and you are at the end of your journey as a seminary student, looking forward to what the future in ministry may hold. As we look at our futures, either as new students, finishing students, or, like me, in between students, it’s important to remember the word of our Lord: “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord,’ plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Firstly, we need to set wise and realistic goals. This is something I learned the hard way in the second semester of my first year when I had the death of my mother, which happened shortly into term. I kept trudging forward because I knew she would want me to, but I also didn’t listen to the thoughtful advice of my advisor, the VFO, friends, and other pastor friends. Looking back now, I may have needed to take the break offered to me, so I did this J-term. Although the holidays did not feel like a break, it was nice to take a step back and reflect on my life, family, school journey, and ministry, as well as my goals and what is and is not realistic. Sometimes writing our goals down on paper or talking them over with a trusted mentor or friend can help us get a better picture of them from an outside perspective. Before you start the next semester and all of the responsibilities that go along with it, you should reconsider your goals within your program choice and discuss them with your advisor. Checking in with ourselves and others can help us stay on course and succeed, even if things are going well for us and we are eager for the next semester.
As the semester gets underway, do not forget to check your canvas pages and add assignments to your calendars. It can be challenging to juggle our jobs, families, ministries, friendships, and all these wonderful things. During my first year at Calvin, there were times when it seemed as though the things I was attempting to establish and strengthen in my relationship with God and the people in my church began to detract from my relationship with Him. Over the break, I have made time with God a priority—not the time to study about God but just to be in the presence of the Holy Spirit and rely on that relationship more. I encourage you to find some balance in each area of your life. Easier said than done, I know, but as I go into my second year, second semester, this is some great advice given to me that I am giving to you.
Prioritizing your tasks is also a great way to keep on track and forgive yourself if things don’t go as planned and hoped. The Lord has a great way of keeping us in something until we get the full benefits of those responsibilities, so it’s okay to have bumps in the road and not be okay sometimes. However, planning, creating schedules, balancing joy and responsibilities, and prioritizing tasks can help the semester go by in a positive and character-building way.
To overcome challenges that may come our way as students and as adults, one of the best ways we can use our ministry work and learn and grow in our failures is to find a great support system of people who can help pick you back up when you fall. This also helps us stay motivated, or even reach out to one friend and ask them to help us stay motivated. If you call them to complain, they need to try to pump you back up again. God wants us in community because he knows we will all have ups and downs, and each person he has gifted us with can fill roles in our lives that we can’t, so seek out those support people and lean on them. Celebrating the small successes, be it getting your assignments done early or on time, being actively involved in discussion boards if you are a hybrid student like me, or getting involved with people on campus and positively encouraging them as well, can help us feel good about our success and help us help others see theirs as well. Implementing some self-care practices is something I have taken away so far from my own experience at Calvin, as well as what I learned in my pastoral care class last semester. Without taking the time to care for ourselves, we cannot entirely give others the care they need. I started working out over the break, and although I haven’t hit the everyday mark yet, the 2-3 times a week I am exercising is making me feel good and strong in both my physical self and my spiritual and emotional self too. Even if you just need to go for a fifteen-minute walk each week by the water to clear your head, a drive, or an extra five minutes in your shower, make the time for you. God’s not going anywhere, and neither is the church, and God wants you to be the best you that you can be. Without self-care and self-love, you cannot show the love of God to anyone else. “A new command I give to you: love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples and that we love one another.” ( John 13:34-35) We cannot help others if we do not take the time to care for our hearts, minds, and bodies.
So, I leave you with these thoughts and prayers. May we be more empathic to each other and ourselves as we enter a new year and semester. May we be wiser about what we have learned works and doesn’t work for us and find ways and people we can lean on who can help us achieve success at Calvin and within our ministry work. As the new year begins and our resolutions fade, we can still find success in each step we take. Reach out to the community around you, be it family, friends, spouses, mentors, fellow church members, an old Facebook friend, or whoever it is you need in your corner to make it happen. Do the work, read the books, use the calendars and tools, and maximize your time. Gain the knowledge, wisdom, and foresight to help you be the best version of yourself that God sees and walk on the path he has set for you. I pray for every one of you as you embark back to school and into a new semester. Let the light of Jesus shine on you and through you, and let your time at Calvin Seminary bring you joy, peace, love, and wisdom to impact others and transform you.
– Amanda Mason