[Note: Some of you may have read this piece of mine before on a previous platform. In honor of the fresh start of a new school year, and my last year of seminary, I wanted to share some things I wish I had known at the beginning of this journey. Some funny, some serious, for better or for worse!]
- COFFEE: Listen, you thought you liked coffee in undergrad? Grad school takes it to an all-new level. You never drank coffee before? Well, you’re about to start. By the end of your first semester, you will be praying for a coffee IV to show up in your Christmas stocking.
- Leave behind your NLT Bible: I didn’t even mention the Message because hopefully, you’ve moved on from such sophomoric resources (Sorry, Eugene, although I’m still a fan of some of your work. There just ain’t much room for your paraphrase in academia). The NRSV will become your new BFF—promise! Buy yourself the one with the Apocrypha, too. You’ll thank me later.
- Do not refer to God as “he”: Honestly, need I say any more? If you know me then you know that I’ve dedicated my life’s purpose to this concept, so I’ll refrain from the speech (momentarily) and just tell you: don’t do it.
- You will be exposed to some wild and wacky thoughts: This is good! And so fun! You will have classes with a smorgasbord of persons and it’s wonderful. Never again in your life may you have this opportunity to sit in a classroom with people aging from 20-something to 70-something. With this much diversity, you are bound to find yourself in dreamy and untamed theological discussions. It might change the way you think about God and the world.
- Skimming is a survival skill: It’s nearly impossible to complete all of our assigned reading. The best part? Even your professors will tell you that. Practice how to skim, oh, and give yourself grace—this skill takes time to hone.
- You will drink alcohol and you will like it: Okay, maybe not everyone. But, it’s true. Just because you’re in seminary doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to drink. Alcohol doesn’t send you to a place of eternal damnation. I have encountered Jesus more often while at the bar with friends than on Sunday mornings in a fancy chapel.
- The community will heal you: I bet you didn’t think you needed healing, did you? Yeah, same. But it’s incredible how a ragtag group of theology nerds will comfort you during a potentially dark season. Lean into your community. Let them bake you cookies on a Wednesday night when you’re crying alone in your apartment. Let them go on walks with you and your dog. Let them do grocery runs with you. Let them drag you out for games and drinks when you feel like laying in your bed and staring at the ceiling. I promise you, it’s worth opening up.
- Bonus: The same concept of healing goes for your professors, too. They’re humans. Oh, and you know what’s really neat? They want you to succeed. Pop into their office every now and then or take them up on meeting for coffee to talk about life outside of the classroom. These conversations will feel like an oasis in a desert.
- This might be the darkest and most challenging season of your life: Listen, don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s life—you never know what may happen! I don’t know what it is, but I wish someone had told me. My best tips for you? Get a dog or make friends with a neighbor that owns a dog. Or a cat! Animals are a great gift of comfort in times of sorrow. Also, see the above note about leaning into your community. They will heal you.
- Bonus: Real talk, seminary can be extremely lonely. Long days in class and long nights in the library are draining. Friends and family don’t understand what you’re going through unless they themselves have trekked through seminary. Even more so, ring by spring came and went and you are left ringless. But, I cannot stress this enough, lean into your community. Relish in this season of living alone and only being responsible for yourself at the end of the day because, who knows, this just might be the last year like that (and that’s exciting!).
- Find a hobby: You need to do something fun between all that reading and writing, and it’s not to read more books or write for fun. Trust me. Play Xbox. Go for a run every day. Learn how to knit. Whatever! Find something!
- Keeping a journal is of utmost importance: For real. This might seem trivial or tedious but in six months, a year, or ten years, you’ll be thankful. The biggest regret I have from my first year of seminary is that I neglected to keep a journal. Jot down how excited you were during last week’s OT discussion. Scribble how upset that one classmate made you feel or how you disagreed with that week’s readings. Your mind will constantly be going a million miles an hour and you need to drop those thoughts onto paper as forms of rest and reflection.
- Skipping chapel/church can qualify as self-care: It’s okay! Promise. BUT, it’s not okay or cool to skip a service to do homework (see: time management skills). Living and breathing biblical studies can be an exhausting endeavor. Draining, even. Some Sundays will roll by and you can’t bring yourself to get out of bed for service. That’s okay. Sleep in, make yourself a pot of coffee and sit on your couch with your latest leisure read. Jesus ain’t mad; he’s proud of your self-care.
- Seminary ⧣ Sunday school: Some people treat it as such. In reality, the subtitle should be “seminary: stuff your senior pastor never taught you.” This is not an angry jab at senior pastors (may the seminarians in your congregation inspire you to step up your theology game). But really, King David isn’t the greatest and Noah’s ark wasn’t full of cuddly animals like you see in the nursery. The Bible is bigger, badder, dirtier, and darker than what you probably learned in Sunday school. Get ready!
- People will want (see: expect) you to pray at every event: One of my seminary friends once told me that yes, of course, this is an expectation of you; you’re professionally religious. PS—it is totally acceptable to decline the request and suggest someone else pray for the meal!
- No, really, you can’t write that exegetical paper in one night: You can’t do it and expect to receive a passing grade. Do yourself and your future congregants a favor: plant your feet and do the hard work. Spend your Saturday afternoons consuming commentaries in the library with your tribe. Plan out your writing days and do not forget to edit!
- You might not make it out alive: This is not meant to be depressing or morbid. A wise friend once told me, “many will not make it to the other side but that doesn’t mean they didn’t make a difference in my educational experience.” You might not finish the program or maybe you’ll switch programs or schools. It’s okay. There is no one true or right formulaic way to do this. Don’t play the comparison game. What takes one student three years may take another twelve or another may drop out. There is no shame here. Nothing is wasted. Do not give in to that lie! It doesn’t mean that this process isn’t edifying and rewarding, because it is worth it.
Obviously, there is A LOT more that could be added to this list, so I want to hear from you! What are some things you wish you knew heading into seminary (or any other graduate program)?