My college experience was one best characterized by all the fun I had. By senior year, I was extremely pleased with my long list of friends and was typically in the know about all the best parties. Most importantly, the majority of cute girls on campus were at least familiar with whom Brandon Howard was and in this, I was well pleased. From time to time I managed to sneak in a little studying as well.
After graduation, I fully expected that, while the setting might change, the party would certainly not end. I pitied friends who were jumping into post-grad life feet first by adding a wife, a mortgage, grad school loans, or jobs working long hours. Some were even crazy enough to complicate life with babies. Those seemed like such “grown-up” decisions and I resisted them.
“Why rush into so much responsibility with so much youth left?” I asked myself.
Years passed and with them brought the harvests of my friends “grown-up” decisions. Countless times I would call to catch up only to be met with the same familiar voicemail greetings. Their families and careers left them little time to shoot the breeze with their bachelor friend.
I got up one morning, late for work, and with half-shaven face, looked myself square in the mirror. What did I have to show for my decisions? I couldn’t think of much beyond a few stints on the unemployment line, a career that I wasn’t proud of, an old car and the growing pit in my stomach that became more and more evident as I returned home each night to a small, lonely apartment.
Over the next several months, the pity party continued. Confetti, streamers and decorations might as well have been thrown all over my apartment along with a huge banner that read, “CONGRATS, BRANDON! YOU ARE A FAILURE!” The more I measured my life to others, the more I sank into despair.
While status in the form of monetary means has never been important to me, the intangible comforts of security, love, and a bright future suddenly felt farther beyond my grasp than ever. With this realization the whispers became louder and louder.
“Brandon, you messed up…now you’ll never have that…you’ll have to settle.”
It was in those months of self loathing, that I noticed something. Though there was never a lack of inner turmoil and discouragement from the black cloud that seemed to constantly follow me, another Voice persisted through it all. It was a Voice of love and acceptance and in the quiet times, it spoke even louder. I noticed how it even seemed to come through the form of friends and family, many of which extended to me the kind words and grace that had all but disappeared from my inner conversation.
The realization of the two constant voices finally caused me to take a self-assessment and over the course of several weeks I began to identify what I had known deep down all along. The words I had heard as a child held true: “The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy.” I was the honored guest at my pity party but I didn’t actually have to do any of the work. The moment I opened myself up to discouragement, the enemy took full opportunity to raise the banner, dance, and throw confetti.
Additionally, and most importantly, I realized that God was there through it all. His Voice constant and clear and his message always the same, He said, “Brandon, I love you.”
It was through those weeks of realization that for the first time in my adult life, I stood still long enough to realize that the depth of my being extended so much farther than the momentary struggles I was facing. The supernatural cognizance of a heart that is greater than just the organ that pumps beneath chest suddenly became clearer, and with it, an ever-constant loving Father.
The voice of discouragement is always there, knocking on the doorstep and waiting for a way in. I discovered a contentment and love that I had never known when I identified the opportunity to take each finite moment of life as a stepping stone to learn and build towards the infinite, rather than simply a measuring stick by which others gauge happiness.
Even today, I find constant opportunities to become discouraged by comparisons to others. However, in every ineptitude, I have knowledge of a Voice far greater than mine, a unique journey that is mine and mine alone, and through it all, a springboard towards the divine destiny with which I have been blessed.
If you know someone who is struggling with the post-college life or with comparison vs. contentment, will you email them this post to encourage them?