“Do you truly believe that you are God’s beloved, or are you still trying to be the best?” This question, posed by Dr. Dana Townsend to my human anatomy class during the first month of my sophomore year, encapsulates why I consistently thank God that he led me to Wheaton for my college years.
When Dr. Townsend asked this question, and often when I have reflected on its significance in my own life, I have found myself overcome with gratitude to be at a place like Wheaton, because it reminds me of the fundamental feature that sets Wheaton apart from most colleges, or most places, in the world. While so many places, including Wheaton, aim to be and do the “best,” Wheaton is a place where “the best” isn’t indicated by GPA, wealth, or social status, but by experiencing the freedom that comes from an authentic relationship with the God of the universe. This counter-cultural way of thinking comes from a community of students, faculty, and staff that truly believe that there is no greater thing than knowing Jesus better. This view also has informed so many of my relationships and experiences during my time at Wheaton as I have interacted with countless people who genuinely care about me, not because of what I have to offer them, but because I am God’s beloved.
Now, when Dr. Townsend posed this question to my class, she wasn’t letting us off the hook for trying to be the best students we could be; on the contrary, throughout the semester she pushed us harder than any professor I’ve ever had. But in asking this question during one of her first lectures, she established, from the beginning, that our identity as excellent students will always be secondary to our identity as children of God. Psalm 46:10 tells us to “cease striving and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” This sentiment, to “cease striving,” would feel terribly out of place at almost any other college campus. But at Wheaton, not allowing our best efforts to be fantastic students, family members, or friends to eclipse our best efforts to love and serve God actually calls us to “cease striving and know that [He] is God.” That is why I am incredibly thankful to have spent these last two years at Wheaton. I am so grateful to be in a place that pushes me to be my best, but where my personal success always comes second to recognizing the overwhelming grace of God and allowing that to shape my life. I still need to ask myself everyday whether I am still striving to be “the best.” However, I am confident as I stand at the halfway point of my college experience, looking back at my first two years at Wheaton and ahead at these final two, that I have been and will continue to be pushed by my community at Wheaton to be the best version of myself—one who loves Jesus deeply and basks in my identity as His beloved.