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September 23, 2009

If Only Life Came with a Syllabus

I’ve often thought it would be nice if we knew exactly what life had in store for us.

Last weekend, I headed to a local coffee shop with a stack of books for a graduate course I’m taking. Before I began the week’s reading, I pored over the course outline, highlighter in hand, and pens with two different colors of ink at the ready. I spent several minutes marking the most important information on paper, then entering and color-coding the significant dates in my PDA.

The syllabus is one of my favorite things about classes. I love having everything spelled out clearly in one document. A good syllabus does more than simply outline the readings, tests, and assignments for the course. It describes the course, defines its goals, and gives insight into how it will work. It answers questions like: on which assignments should I focus the bulk of my energy and attention? How do I know what the expectations and standards are, and whether or not I’m on track? What should I be doing with my time? If I need help or feedback, where should I go, and when?

As I circled dates, bracketed the grading scale, and starred major assignments, I wondered—and not for the first time—why life doesn’t come with a syllabus.

One of the major surprises of my first post-college year occurred as I gradually realized how much I missed the clarity and structure of academic life. In a lot of ways, I found the freedom to make my own choices more than a little daunting.

I had believed that if I did the things I knew to do as a Christian, and kept away from trouble—more or less following the outline of assumptions I had about the Christian life—I’d always know what to do. I expected to have the answers I sought, and to know what my goals were. I thought I’d know where to focus my efforts, and what success looked like. I was sure I’d always feel like my life was on track, and I assumed that following God meant I’d never face uncertainty, or suffer heartache and confusion, or need to be brave and take risks.

I missed getting the most important information at the beginning of an experience and knowing that there was an outline to follow. Even though I could count on a class to be challenging, with the outline I knew I wouldn’t wonder what to do next. It was already planned for me. I missed having all of the answers in front of me, and knowing exactly what to expect. In my mind, clarity, certainty, and good behavior were substitutes for believing that I could trust God and join the adventure of his good—if not totally disclosed—plan.

Yet during that initial surprise—and as my life has moved forward—I’ve learned that while there isn’t a syllabus for life, God has graciously provided the guidance I need. While he hasn’t revealed everything about how my life will unfold, step-by-step, he has provided opportunities to follow the principles in Scripture and to draw encouragement from its stories of people who also had to trust during uncertain times. He’s given me friends who share their own stories and struggles related to trusting God, and who pray me through the chaotic and uncertain times. And God has gifted me with rich memories of his guidance at pivotal moments in my life, and reminded me that he has allowed my life to move forward in some observable ways.

Despite my longing to receive a personalized life syllabus directly from God, I’m now thankful—mostly—for opportunities to trust him with my future, and to grow in my relationship with him as a result.

Related Tags: Guidance


Ah, I can't help but agree with you. I need to trust more, but (as a current undergraduate), I love my syllabuses. Or syllabi, whichever it is.

I remember those first unsure days after college, no one to guide me, answer my questions, and yes, no syllabus. Those life transitions are times when dependency on God grows the deepest I think. I remember leaving highschool, then getting mariied, graduating college. i remember the transition of going from being with my family as the little sister to moving across the country and being an officer's wife. Now I'm a mom. I wish I could say I handled every transition with grace and ease. Fortunately though I can at least be thankful I survived and most importantly my relationship with God is that much more deep because in those times I it was He that got me through it... and chocolate, lots of chocolate.

thsnk agaod that He doesnt leave us alone in th eplace of uncertainty.He somehow makes a way and things have a way of working our for our good,i am being real here because i've had to grop in the dark alot of times but looking back now,i know my steps were still ordered.

i agree with you completely! i dont know about you but when i think about God and how mighty, amazing, etc He is and come with questions and need His guidence i expect something huge when all i really need to do sometimes is come to Him in a simple way-to His Word :) i read this somewhere before and thought it was pretty awesome Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (BIBLE) may the Lord bless you and keep you!

God's syllabus is the best of all (Bible) and if you read Rev - we win in the end. So enjoy the ride while you have the opportunity. Then one day you will also enjoy the reward. I am looking forward to it.
Mrs. Lauretta
Marriage Expert
& Sinner Saved By Grace

Ah, as I teacher I revel in the creation of my syllabus every year: trying to establish the nuances of the course with pithy quotes, structuring time and relaying what will be the necessary stopping points on our journey through the course. And then, of course, the actual implementation of it, which some teachers will say gets happily thrown out the window at some points. Or rather, in the best possible circumstances, the stopping point is hit upon (oh, let's say Shakespeare's Othello, since I'm an English teacher)- but where the students GO at this point can sometimes be a total surprise. And then the teacher learns too. Good stuff...

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