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O, I of Little Faith

By Karis Ryu '21

During the last two weeks of winter break, I found myself facing the impending semester, my junior spring, with increasing dread. It was a departure from the way I had entered all of my other semesters: joyfulness, hope, and energy had always accompanied any sense of anxiety concerning the unknown. Before, I could always list the things I was looking forward to, the activities and experiences I was nervous but nevertheless excited to have, whether it was taking an interesting class, spending time with friends, auditioning for shows, or simply basking in the beauty of being an active student with the privilege of attending college.

Last semester, I pounced on everything that I had, and tried to put it under my control. All of a sudden, in my mind, everything was up to me: my grades, my social life, my friendships, they were all my responsibility to supervise at all times. If I wasn’t two days ahead on a reading, I had failed my productivity. If I didn’t go to office hours one week, I worried over whether I had done something wrong. I worried about whether professors knew me well enough. I worried that my contributions to discussion sections were inane, and everyone must have known, they just weren’t telling me. I scheduled every hour of my life on notepads, on Google Calendar. I needed to be on top of it, I told myself. Otherwise, could I even call myself a Brown student? I was convinced that if I fell one step behind, if I made one mistake, I was incompetent, inefficient, unsuccessful.

When I first came to Brown as a shy, bewildered first-year with no idea what she wanted to concentrate in, and still losing the last vestiges of her baby fat, I could not have expected to become the person I am now. Every day, I am reminded of what a privilege it is to even get to have concerns about my studies, about having a meaningful career, about life decisions that I have the liberty to make in a world where that is often not the reality. And yet, halfway through my junior year, the deepest part of my brain was still convinced that I was that same scared, lonely, undesirable child who had never written a formal research paper before college, who had fished for SAT practice tests online in her room with no teacher to go to, who had spent most of her life feeling undesirable, unequipped for, and unworthy of any kind of success. That nothing had changed, and in order to make people think otherwise, in order to prove that I deserved to be here, I had to compensate for all of that through hard work and perspiration.

I broke down at least once a week during my junior fall. I lost composure in public spaces while calling my mother, and at one point, a friend had to take me to my dorm and order me to go to bed. When my mother visited during family weekend, I kept collapsing into bouts of sleep because even though I wanted to stay awake, I hadn’t been letting my body rest. Most days, I kept myself going purely on the fact that at one point, everything would be over, time would pass, and then I would finally go home.

Upon finishing my finals, I returned to my family utterly exhausted. For days, all I did was sleep, eat, read the books I hadn’t had time for during school, and sleep again, relishing the reprieve from work. But then, halfway through winter break, I was struck with fear at my inactivity. Shouldn’t I be doing something? Studying for the LSAT or GRE or something? Taking a winter course? Emailing people? I stared at my LinkedIn profile with increasing hopelessness, wishing I had more things to put up. I wondered whether I was making the right choices with my classes and extracurriculars. Resting felt like a waste of time, even when rest and recuperation were the very things I had been looking forward to.

So, in this state of constant agitation and restlessness, the incoming semester felt more and more daunting.

During one of my calls home last semester, as I tried not to cry out of exhaustion and panic in the middle of a coffee shop, my mother posed this question to me: “But why do you want a career?”

“Because I’m working hard!” I said.

“But for what? Why do you work hard? Do you want a career for the sake of a career? Because you’ll feel insecure if you don’t have a career? Because I don’t care whether you have a career or not,” said my mother. “I’m not worried about you. I don’t care if you don’t have a job after graduation, or if you live at home. Because I know that God has you. And that’s what matters.”

“It matters to me,” I cried.

“Whose glory do you live for, yours or God’s?”

My lip trembled.

“Matthew 6:33, Karis,” said my mother. “Matthew 6:33.”

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

I kept arguing with her, but the point she made stuck with me through the rest of the semester. Whenever I got stressed, whenever I clutched my heart to slow down the panic, while I laboriously cranked out my final papers: How far would I go to keep proving myself, and who was I proving myself to? When would it be enough? When would I feel like finally, I had worked hard enough, I had achieved enough, to be satisfied?

In high school, I thought all of my problems would be solved once I got to Brown. But every day I spent on campus, it seemed like I only accumulated more and more anxiety.

Last semester, I lived like my survival depended on me. I got caught up in the hustle of Brown, the adrenaline-rush pace of the Ivy League, internalized a toxic pressure that if I didn’t perform as well as those around me, in academics, in professional life, in economic success, it would be embarrassing. I wanted people to see me and see competence, intelligence, organization, piety, accomplishment. I ran at a rapid pace at all times, never letting myself even think about stopping. Even as I felt, and saw, and knew deep inside that I was hurting myself, as I struggled to stay awake and held my chest through panic attacks, I refused to change, because I didn’t want to leave my race, and if I was going to stay in this race, I couldn’t afford to slow down.

My attempts at starting devotionals during junior fall were sporadic and lackluster, but really, what I needed the most was God’s word, the Bible. During break, my family started the yearlong M’Cheyne reading plan together, and on our sixth day of the plan, Matthew 6 came back into my life: “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30 ESV)

Entering this new semester, I want to remind myself of that truth, that God does not call us to “do” anything in this world except love Him. The ways in which we can do that are diverse and endless, but God, the Creator of life, the Maker of heaven and earth, is the joy and beauty of living. What does it matter what job I have, what money I make, what recognition or praise I receive from people? To know God is to believe Him, and to believe Him is to trust in the Scripture that He gave us. And in it, He tells us not to be anxious.

Imagine a forked road, with two paths to take. The me from last semester would spend hours fretting, and deliberating, and crying as she stressed over which path would be the “right” one to take. She would extract all of the pros and cons, make charts on charts, wring her head to deduce the most logical option. Her life would hang in the balance of this choice.

But more than any choice to be made, it is the act of faith, the prayer to God, that matters most. When standing in His presence, it isn’t about choosing the right path, getting the right internship, creating the perfect resume. It’s about committing the soul to God first, and knowing that life is so much more than just that road. Hasn’t God promised, over and over again, that we need not be anxious?

I want to redirect the course of my time at Brown, and the course of my life, from a rapid pace fraught with anxiety to a steady pace imbued with confidence in the power of the Lord. Jesus said this to his disciples millennia ago, and he says it to us today, with a loving expression that understands all of our thoughts and guides us to the truth: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36 ESV)


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