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College, Correction, & Calculus

December 11th, 2008

Focus Text: Proverbs 10: 17 (NLT)

17 People who accept discipline are on the pathway to life,
      but those who ignore correction will go astray.


Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead

The five years I spent in college at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville were essential to my personal journey.  Growing up, I was always a naturally strong student.  A’s were the norm for me and academics came second nature.  Upon my high school graduation, I was blessed to be awarded a full-ride scholarship to college.  I was elated!

College, though, presented a different array of challenges than high school.  Truthfully, the problem didn’t necessarily lie in the difficulty of the content of my classes; it was more a result of the huge change in freedom and schedule.  The only real difference between a college freshman and a high school senior is a six-week vacation.  Self-discipline and maturity don’t just appear overnight when one walks onto campus.  For that matter, I could argue that maturity actually declines for the first couple of years, only to return after one has severely messed up enough situations to find motivation to change.

For me, my personal challenges were related to schedule, lifestyle, and priorities.  My first semester landed me as the president and worship leader of a new Christian campus organization called Chi Alpha, a youth leader and Sunday School teacher in a local youth group, a church pianist, a member and the main songwriter in a Christian rock band that usually played at least one or two shows a week, an elected Student Government officer for the Freshmen Council, membership in three of the five branches of student government, and a new boyfriend to a girl who lived about thirty minutes from campus.

Oh, and did I mention that I had sixteen hours of classes that semester, including Honors English, Chemistry, and Calculus II?  Class?  You mean college has classes?

Needless to say, my body, mind, and social life underwent some pretty drastic transformations that first year.  I had to decide what was most important and crucial to my development because if everything is priority, then nothing is priority.  The lesson was hard-learned . . . and still is.

Discipline is a word that has multiple interpretations.  If we say that a kid is disciplined by his parents, then we immediately understand that he is being punished for something wrong.  On the other hand, if we say that we are learning to discipline ourselves to exercise regularly or make better food choices, then the word takes on a lesser harshness. In this respect, discipline is more of an adjustment than a punishment.

Either way you slice it, though, discipline is the realignment of something that is out of whack.  In the context of parenting, kids sometimes get “whacked” on the backside when they are “out of whack”– this is discipline.  Adults can also receive discipline from their employers . . . again, a very negative connotation follows this scenario.  When you break it down, discipline is a noun and a verb . . . something we can receive from others or exercise upon ourselves.  Discipline is about realignment from without and from within. Whether it is received or exercised, discipline is a form of correction.

When we reach our teen years and adulthood, we often become resistant to the concept of discipline in the form of correction from an outside source.  We feel that our freedom as adults exempts us from such “childish” discipline.  But wisdom swoops down upon us again to reveal real truth: those who are wise will continue to accept discipline in their lives.

Those who ultimately fail at the college level usually don’t do so because they are incapable of completing the academic requirements.  It is more so a result of being resistant to the requirements or “correction” of professors.  Now, most students don’t stand up in class and scream at the professor, “No!  I’m not going to write your stinking paper!”  Eat chalk dust, Four-Eyes!  No, resistance is usually more subtle; it’s the choosing of one’s self-made path over the path provided.  It’s skipping a dozen classes in a semester just because you can or maybe because you’re busy.  In the end, it’s about priorities.

In the natural, there’s no sin here.  Skipping a college class isn’t a spiritual offense. However, it does mean that one will not receive the college degree they want.  It cannot be attained without choosing to make the requirements . . . the academic path, if you will . . . at least a high enough priority to fulfill the minimum expectations.  No hard feelings, but not degree either.

It’s about discipline . . . both internal and external.  Internally, one must exercise enough self-discipline to get up out of bed.  To write research papers.  To go to work.  The list is endless.  Externally, it’s about accepting correction from professors, bosses– and yes, even parents.  As this passage clearly states, “People who accept discipline are on the pathway to life, but those who ignore correction will go astray.”  Can it be any plainer?  

There is no age that is reached where one no longer needs correction.  A truly wise and “disciplined” person will realize this.  May I never reach a point of proficiency or excellence that I can no longer receive correction.  If I’m too wise to be corrected, I forfeit all the wisdom I have.  

That first year of college didn’t produce instant maturity in me; in fact, that particular goal is still a work in progress.  I did walk away, though, realizing that the gentle correction of my parents, professors, and pastors . . . all who “lovingly hounded” me that semester about prioritization and not overextending myself . . . was absolutely true.  I could roll my eyes at them, but they were right.  Resisting their correction would have preserved nothing but my delusional pride.

It took me going on a semester of academic scholarship probation to realize it. Somewhere in that process of my freshman year, the discipline worked.

If only it will continue to work.  If only I will listen to the voices of wisdom in my life and never become too high and mighty to be corrected.  In the spiritual sense, correction from God is an indicator of our family status . . . it shows honor, not dishonor.  He loves those whom He corrects and corrects those whom He loves.

When it comes to college, I definitely recall the correction that shaped me.  I wish I could say the same for the Calculus.



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