Starting out well
As the dust begins to settle on this new term, it is helpful to take some time out to consider afresh this exciting season in your life. Making the most of this stage is something that will pay dividends for the rest of your life, but it will also require forethought and planning to accomplish. Here are five steps to getting the most out of this new adventure.
1. Study with a Big Picture
This won’t be everyone’s struggle, but I felt quickly disillusioned at the gap between my lofty aspirations for my career as a lawyer and the drudgery of some of my lectures. Keeping the end goal in view was thus really important for me. Precise details are not necessary, but general pointers as to why your degree was worth embarking on in the first place can provide meaningful support when the going gets tough. Even if you have no idea why you’re doing your degree, taking time out to situate your studies in a broader context can still be beneficial.
One helpful way of doing this is to carve out time to consider how the law serves justice, both from a general social understanding and a more explicitly Christian perspective. I got on to doing this quite late in the course of my studies, and as such I denied myself the chance to think more holistically about my degree and to be motivated by more than looming deadlines! Two books I would recommend towards this end are The Rule of Law by Tom Bingham (not Christian specific) and A Biblical View of Law and Justice by David McIlroy.
2. Work Diligently
‘Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the master you are serving is Christ’. Colossians 3:23-24
It is one thing to establish a framework for your student working life – it is another thing to use it! Avodah, one of the Hebrew words used in Scripture to describe worship also means work, and is a helpful reminder that our work is meaningful to God. Your studying is not a distraction from a full life with God, but actually part and parcel of what He has made you for. Taking care to do your reading (yes, actually read those cases!) and having a mode of preparation for exams other than cramming will be beneficial for your mental health, and will also communicate to God that you desire to honour Him in and with all He has entrusted to you. Hear these words from Tom Nelson in his book, Work Matters: ‘One of the primary ways we tangibly love our neighbors is to do excellent, God-honoring work in our various vocations’ (92). The main goal of work, for Nelson, ‘is worship through a lifestyle of God-honoring vocational faithfulness’ (93).
This is also a really good time to hone your working pattern and experiment with different working styles to figure out what works best for you. Employers do tend to assume you’ve figured this all out by graduation!
3. Fight for Joy
The gradual but insistent change in the weather as autumn deepens and winter approaches can be mirrored in the heart of a busy student. Balancing social events, deadlines and full church and CU participation can be more easily likened to walking a tightrope than a casual juggling act. Nehemiah remarks in the midst of a tumultuous building campaign with odds massively stacked against him that the joy of the Lord is strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
Joy is distinguishable from buzz and excitement in that it is anchored in the reality of God, and it can be enjoyed even when external circumstances try to dictate otherwise. So, if you’re really flourishing right now, finding new friendships and feeling hopeful for the year to come – praise God! Thank Him for the gift of joy, and seek to have your joy grounded in Him. If on the other hand you’re floundering somewhat and already on a countdown to the next break – rejoice! God’s joy is such that it can be known at the best and worst of times.
A really helpful way of immersing yourself in this reality is regular time with God, allowing your mind to be transformed by his truth, but also for your heart to be formed by his joy. Prioritising joy looks practically like setting aside time for gratitude and thanksgiving to God, taking pleasure in simple things, placing laughter right among the essential tasks of the day, and regular contact points with wholesome friends that make the heart glad.
Commitment is a critical part of cultivating delight and making space for joy to blossom. With a whole new world of relationships and opportunities opening up to you, it can be tempting to ride the waves of novelty for as long as possible without any thought to the long term. However, waves do crash, and discovering you have no relationships of depth when you really need them is no one’s cup of tea. Steadying yourself by making thoughtful and early commitments in the first few weeks of term is really wise.
CUs are a natural shout for places to find authentic community that makes sense of uni life, places to grow in wisdom and courage when it comes to sharing about Jesus with those around you, and fun! They are also really helpful for providing links with churches in your area. Deep relationships take time, and with care and patience they can evolve into something truly beautiful. Be prepared to take initiative and be patient - whatever you do, do not give up at the first hurdle!
5. Say Hi
I am increasingly persuaded that simple encounters are a key means to a silent revolution. The early stages of term are the best time to naturally engage those around you conversation, be they housemates or course mates. They are also a prime time to develop the muscle of regularly breaking (the) ice with people. Reaching out in this way is a great platform for relationships, which are in turn a great platform for introducing people to Jesus. You never know what kind of connection will spring up from your 15 seconds of courage, or how desperately lonely the person beside you might be feeling. Rather than the preserve of the wildly extroverted, conversation is a tool of bridge building that can be undertaken by anyone and practiced anywhere.
Your law degree, like all of your life, is a platform to encounter the goodness of God. This new year is brimming with opportunities and avenues for joy, and your work in law is no exception. Take care to go through it thoughtfully, and treasure it as the unique gift that it is. Know that we at the Law Network will be praying for you as the year unfolds, and do feel free to get in touch with points for prayer – we would love to hear from you.