September is a wonderful month. I always loved the feeling of a new start: getting up earlier than necessary for the first day of school, moving into a new flat at uni, challenging myself to take up new hobbies. Whilst in nature autumn is a time of dying-off, in life it is rich with new beginnings.
Last September, however, everything started without me. As my fellow graduate friends started exciting new jobs, I was stuck at home feeling damaged and discarded. I had expected to be in London, living with my friend and starting the job God had pointed me towards. Instead I was watching autumn go by from my bedroom window.
A much-anticipated placement on a Christian graduate programme fell through at the end of July, and all my expectations were shattered. I felt as though my life had collapsed in on itself. My sense of value and self-esteem were diminished, and my insecurities suddenly all felt validated.
While at Glasgow I felt a strong pull towards politics and social justice, which I explored through Just Love and by working for Christians on the Left. It felt as if God had given me a purpose, a specific calling, and was leading me towards a career in that sphere. When the programme fell through, along with several other amazing opportunities, I went from an optimistic belief that each one was God’s plan for me, to doubting God’s intervention entirely.
It was easier to believe that everything was happening separate from God, rather than thinking that the unemployment, continuous disappointment and mental struggles were the design of our benevolent Creator.
Anyone who’s spoken to me for five minutes will know how much I love Bristol – but for those months, it was the last place I wanted to be. I felt myself sinking into a very low state of mind.
During this time, I didn’t seek comfort or reassurance from my faith at all – I became completely cut-off from it. Instead, I was buoyed by supportive friends, discovered new passions for cycling and swimming, and started volunteering at my local foodbank.
Before I knew it, I was offered a job I wasn’t sure about, and took it straight away. I moved to London and spent six months struggling through it. Finally, an amazing opportunity came up: a job with my own MP. I applied, interviewed, and within a few weeks was sat in Parliament wondering how on earth, one year on from graduating, I was exactly where I wanted to be.
So was this God’s big plan all along? I’m not sure I can see it that way right now. I’ve never really believed in the mantra of “everything happens for a reason”, perhaps because it’s been co-opted by secular/spiritualist culture. I do, however, believe we can learn from the bad things that happen to us if keep ourselves open.
Good things came from the unexpected. I ended up living with two life-giving girls who taught me so much about community. I found a wonderful church I would never otherwise have heard of, and learned so much about how to truly empathise with people going through struggles.
Bizarrely, what I’m most grateful for is how that period of my life led me to have serious, profound doubts in my faith. Many of us can breeze through university enjoying the social sides of Christianity – the societies, the ceilidhs, the late-night debates – it’s great, until you enter adult life and realise that your faith perhaps hasn’t had an MOT for a while. All faiths need an MOT. I came out of mine more convinced than ever about my relationship with Jesus – even if everything else is still being worked out.
Sadly it’s not uncommon to leave uni with hopes and dreams about what graduate life might be like, and find those expectations disappointed. Volunteering during periods of job hunting can be a great way to have purpose and grow your self-esteem. And for others like me who have found it to be a period of searching in a deeper sense, I would say: don’t shy away from that. Don’t be scared of doubts and hide from questions you have. These times of struggling with what you believe can provide you with a longer-term peace than what comes from having life go exactly your way.