The bell rang, and I heaved a sigh of relief. My first day of attending classes was over, and I hadn’t made any major mistakes. Maybe being in a classroom won’t be as hard as I thought, and, feeling brave, I turned to look at the young man I’d recognized from auditions earlier in the week. We were in the same program, and he seemed nice– in a sudden fit I asked if he’d like to come to dinner with some of my friends.
I was shocked at myself. I’d just asked a guy to dinner. After I’d just officially met him an hour ago. After not even being on campus for a week. Samantha what were you thinking but I managed to keep a pleasant expression plastered on my face. He thought about my invitation for a second, then said “sure, where and when?”
“6 at the Four Winds? Meet outside?”
He nodded, then we gathered up our bags and left.
At dinner that night, as we introduced each other and made small talk, I realized that one of the “getting to know you” questions spelled trouble for me. Hometown, major, age– I had all those covered. But I quickly learned to dread the “so how did you know God wanted you to come to PCC” question.
I didn’t have an answer. At least, not an answer that I could give.
I started thinking about where I might want to go to college when I was a sophomore in high school, and at the time, I thought I only had three options. All through high school, I only ever really considered three schools: Patrick Henry College, Bob Jones University, and Pensacola Christian College. I’m not sure exactly why I never bothered looking into other schools like Maranatha or Cedarville or Liberty, but it probably had something to do with me thinking that they were all too liberal. Considering the response I got from my fundamentalist friends when I announced I was going to Liberty, it was probably the “liberal” thing.
The summer after my sophomore year I went to PCC’s “Summer Music Academy,” and I absolutely loved it. The environment was much more lax than what I’d grown up with, and I loved the music faculty.
When it finally came time for me to start applying to colleges, I took a more careful look at BJU and PHC– talked to people who’d gone to each, got their informational packets . . . but, in the end, I realized that attending PCC would mean that I would be closer to home, it was cheaper, and because I was already familiar with the campus and how the school operated I figured I wouldn’t be as nervous. Also, I’d made a lot of friends at the summer program who were going, and that seemed like a huge plus. So, I sent out one application. In the fall, I packed my bags, made the one-hour drive to Pensacola, and never really looked back.
However, when I started staring down the question how did the Lord reveal his Will to you? over and over and over again . . . I started wondering if I’d made a mistake. There was entire sermons and chapel services to the concept of “discovering the will of God for your life,” and some of the people around me were agonizing over decisions that I had never thought needed to be agonized over.
How did you to decide to be a music major? Uhm . . . I like playing the piano? (Corollary: it was a degree a woman was allowed to get.)
Did the Lord call you to education? Not exactly. I just don’t like the classes I’d have to take if I were in the ministry major, and the performance major was too much work.
And, the biggie: do you know what the Lord’s plan is for your life? No. Idea.
I’d decided which college I was going to go to based purely on practical, real-life considerations. I had friends there. It was close to home. I liked the faculty. And while those would probably be considered “normal” reasons to non-fundamentalists, they certainly were not the reasons I was supposed to have. I was supposed to feel “called” to PCC. I was supposed to have “guidance from the Lord” when I picked a school. I was supposed to just know that this is where God wanted me.
After about a month of hearing all of that, I called bullshit.
I believe that many of the people I spoke to honestly, genuinely believed that God had led them to PCC. I also believe that there were probably just as many people who were puffing up their stories with “spirituality” in order to get some bizarre version of Christian brownie points.
I ran into the same idea again in my senior year– only this time it was graduate school, and my process was similar: I wanted to study English and I needed a school that would accept my credits so I wouldn’t have to start over. Liberty was the only school I found that had an MA program that I knew wouldn’t be a nightmare to try to get into.
When I announced that decision to friends, though, nearly everyone told me that they would be “praying” that I would “find God’s true will” for my life. To them, there was no possible way that Liberty University could be what God wanted, and that’s when it hit me:
It wasn’t really about God’s will. Not really.
“Being in the center of God’s will” actually amounted to doing what your fundamentalist community approves of. Pensacola was one of the few viable options available for most of the people I went to college with, which almost automatically made it “God’s will” for a lot of them. However, when you’re inside that framework, there’s no real way to separate “God’s will” from “what fundamentalism allows.” They are taught to us as being the same thing. Fundamentalism allows this because it’s God’s will. So the second I stepped outside of fundamentalism and went to the-still-conservative-but-not-fundamentalist Liberty, I was viewed as needing to be “brought back.” I was straying away from God, backsliding, ignoring Him to pursue what I wanted instead of what He wants.
This mentality trickles down into everything– it’s God’s will for women to be in subjection to men. It’s God’s will for women to be modest. It’s God’s will for us to be keepers at home. It’s God’s will for women to be silent in church.
In the end, discovering God’s will becomes follow all the rules.