By Claire Lin '23
Dear high school me,
It’s probably 2 a.m. right now — you’re slowly tiptoeing across the kitchen floor, blindly searching for the pitcher of ice-cold water in the dark, careful not to wake your parents up. You’re going to need a lot of water to keep you awake for two more hours.
I can picture your laptop screen so vividly: the sixth draft of a college application essay you’re still unsatisfied with in a window on the left, Thesaurus.com pulled up on the right, the Common App website bookmarked in the corner. The deadline to your dream school is rapidly approaching, your essays are nowhere near ready, and you have no idea how to fix them. You type, then delete. Type. Delete. Type. Delete. Repeat. Nothing has changed.
It’s 4 a.m. Your friends always joke that the best work is produced between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. when you’re panicking — you’re panicking, yes, but your work is far from good. You’re tired, so tired, but you cannot stop. You so desperately want to rest, but you don’t have the time.
I wish I could send paper planes through time. If I could, one would land in front of you right now as you rub your weary eyes. When you unfold it, this is what I would have scrawled in it:
[Jesus] said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
(Mark 6:31, NIV)
I know you are trying so hard to do everything on your own; it’s so easy to forget about God during the stressful times of your life, when it seems like you don’t have a moment to spare for Him in between everything you need to finish. But as I’ve come to learn through every exam in college, even when you feel like letting go of God — especially in your most anxious and busiest moments — God is holding ever more tightly onto you. He understands how exhausted and worried you are; especially in this time of college applications, He is telling you, inviting you to come and give all your fears and burdens to Him because He wants to give your soul rest.
December 15th, 7 p.m. You are nervous (maybe even excited?) to open your Early Action decision. You're alone in the living room, you’re opening up the admissions portal, you’re logging in, you’re waiting and waiting as it loads and loads —
And then you read five words: “…but we are very sorry… ”
In the next room over, there are shouts of joy; your family is celebrating, because your sister has gotten into her dream college early. You don’t know how to tell them about your letter.
That night, God sees you crying alone in your bedroom, trying so hard to muffle the sound of your tears. He sees your disappointment, your frustration, your heartbreak. The dream you worked so hard for, the dream you were convinced was so secure, shattered into a million broken pieces. All the time and effort you invested into your application, all the expectations riding on your shoulders, all the qualifications you believed you have — doesn’t God consider any of this? Isn’t God supposed to be fair? God hears the anger in your sobs, all the why’s you can’t even begin to ask. You don’t believe it, but He sees you, He hears you, and He knows your pain.
I would send you another paper plane now; it would fly in and rest on your tear-stained pillow, for you to read when you wake up the next morning. And on the wing:
He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads [them].
The Gospels tell you of a Shepherd who loves and cares for every single one of His sheep, who goes out to search for and rescue His one lost sheep even though there are still ninety-nine others left. The Lord has not forgotten you. He is holding you just as close to His heart as He has since He first created you, and He is still guiding you through this season.
But in this present moment, your faith is shaky. You’re so ecstatic for and proud of your sister, but the seeming unfairness of it hurts. You’ll never tell her, but it stings watching her celebrate. How come God fulfilled her prayers but not yours? It feels like you’ve lost, like God has let you down. But He hasn’t. You can’t perceive all the blessings God has in store for you down the road, so it’s hard to believe that God really has the best plans for you. And you are terrified — you have all these hopes and dreams that you are clutching onto so tightly, but what if God’s plans don’t align with yours? Could you settle for something different?
You want the easy, painless route — for life to be smooth, for God to meet all your wants. God is certainly capable of that; Mark 10:27 tells us that “all things are possible with God.” But He doesn’t do that. Instead, He wants you to grow in faith, to learn to trust fully in Him. It feels tough now, but God is preparing you, because He knows you’ll need it when He sends you by yourself all the way to the other side of the country for the next few years of your life.
But you don’t understand this now. And that’s okay, because learning to be obedient to God’s plans is a lifelong process.
Do you remember last summer, when you attended that youth conference in Toronto? It’s still so vivid in my memory. That Thursday night, we — all one hundred youth in a crowded room — were singing “In Christ Alone.” The sister-in-Christ next to you, carrying so much disappointment and failure, coming before the Lord in tears. But when the line came:
And as He stands in victory,
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
she was standing, her hands lifted high in the air. You knew her story, you knew her aching; you knew how defeated and helpless she felt — but through it all, God was victorious, and in Him, she was victorious too.
You’ve probably forgotten about it. So I’ll see if a hundred tiny paper planes can come soaring through your window right now, like warm sunlight streaming through the glass panels in the middle of this cold winter, enveloping you in hope.
I’ll just focus on one plane for now:
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Though you cannot see Him, your God is a powerful and omnipotent and perfect God. As great as your plans are, God’s plans — which “work for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28) — are even greater. He loves you and cares for your future, and nothing, not even taking you to the right college, is impossible for Him.
I could go on and on, but for now I’ll just remind you of a question that same sister asked you on Wednesday night. That question still runs through my head today. You two were roommates, laying in opposite beds and talking, sharing about how you felt the Lord’s presence in your lives through every difficulty and anxiety, every hope and dream, every relationship and circumstance. And right before you finally finished laughing and crying and confiding with each other at 3 a.m., she asked you: “Is the Lord enough where you are?”
All those years, had the Lord been enough where you were? The answer was yes. Is the Lord enough where you are right now? The answer is also yes. Will the Lord be enough where you are in college? Yes again.
So if a victorious God — who loves you so incredibly much — is always with you and for you, what is there to doubt? Wherever God places you, how could you ever lose? Would God ever not give you what’s best for you, not lead you to where’s best for you? On another paper plane, inscribed with that song you grew up singing in church:
Our God not withheld His own son,
The treasure of His heart poured out for you.
If He withheld not His own son,
What now would He withhold from you, His own?
(O Come Ye Beloved of the Lord)
I know you’re still hesitant, so the final paper plane I want to send you will have these two verses written in bold letters, for you to open right before you submit your last application:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness …
So that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on [my] power.
(1 Corinthians 2:15, 2:5)
I have these two verses hung up on my dorm wall: even in my doubts and shortcomings, I am reminded that God is still almighty and sovereign, and His grace and power are still more than enough. So as you finish your applications and wait for your decisions, trust that He will meet you where you are, and rest in the promise that He will carry you to where He has determined for you.
In a couple of months, you’ll be in a seat on an actual plane, watching the sunrise on your way to the school that God has prepared for you. Because God hasn’t forgotten about you but instead has been your victory amidst all your defeat, and He has brought you to exactly where He wants you to be. And in due time, you will see just how wonderful it is.
Maybe later you’ll send me a paper plane back, in the middle of midterm season right when I need it the most. On the bottom, in small but clear print:
God is sovereign. In all things.