Wisdom for Flourishing in Graduate School
In Jeremiah 29, we find a prophet’s letter, written to a group of exiles in Babylon. It’s a beautiful and realistic call to life in the most difficult of circumstances. Make no mistake, graduate school is not exile. Period. Full stop. But his words are pregnant with useful instruction for those seeking to flourish in hard times.
First off, he tells them to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” Get used to being in Babylon, he says, because you’re not leaving anytime soon. Whether you’re working on a two-year masters program or a five-year PhD that could stretch to ten, you’re home now. Make it so. Unpack your boxes. Decorate your apartment. Make it a home and then find some friends and invite them over. Don’t wait for the others to call you. Be the inviter. Be the community maker.
In in similar light, “Increase in number there; do not decrease.” Certainly, Jeremiah has in mind procreation when he says this. He wants his readers to have families and to multiply in number. But the idea of increasing rather than decreasing works for life in a more personal sense as well. It would be easy to put your head down and simply do your work, but that would be a mistake. In doing so, you run the risk of decreasing. Insist, instead, on increasing while in grad school. Find a hobby and get good at it. Read fiction. Go on hikes and bike rides. Expand your horizons. Believe it or not, these things will help you think better. I dare you to try. In fact, I’ll do you one better: I dare you to practice Sabbath. Take a day off every week for rest and worship and you will increase.
Jeremiah goes on, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” I want to encourage you to be generous with your time and your energy. Pray for the success of those around you. Share your creative ideas. Encourage others along the way. Because your value does not rest on your accomplishments, you can be generous with what you’ve been given. Remember that it is the Lord who brought you to this place to be a blessing to others. You can hold everything loosely because it’s all a gift.
Finally, understand that a life grounded in God’s faithfulness rather than your own abilities will model a kind of freedom in graduate school that can and will be evangelistic. If you will do these things, others will see the peace and hope of an abundant life in Christ. lt will beg the question: where this come from? Be ready to answer.