Fourth Year Reflection: Jesse Ross
The Center for Christian Study was the very first place I came after moving in. I am, in general, a nervous wreck around large groups of people, and the Move-In Day Lunch was no exception. My fears were hardly allayed by the swarms of people talking to both me and, God forbid, my parents, about where we came from and how we got there. When the first years were mercifully called upstairs to be welcomed by speeches and skits, however, I had the opportunity to meet people who to this day remain some of my close friends. Throughout my first year, I would continue to come to the Study Center to hang out with friends as we settled into our respective fellowships and divided our time amongst small groups, CIOs, and insane test schedules. I would gradually come to realize what blessed refuge the Study Center was from the constant stream of activities that demanded my attention every day. Because, despite everybody's best efforts to warn me and my peers of the dangers of overcommitment, that was exactly what I had done to myself my first two years.
But this was different, I thought, because I was overcommitted doing ministry. It was God's work, and there was no way I could be too busy doing God's work. Which might have even been true, if it was really God's work; work built on a deep life of prayer, community, worship, and the Word. But alas it was not, as I would eventually learn from Bill Wilder: it was works righteousness, a performed piety. I hoped that if I could just keep doing Christian things, I would become closer to Jesus, and I would certainly look like I was closer to Jesus. But that wasn’t true. And as second year came to a close, I came to realize that all the things I thought I believed about being a Christian might not be so true.
So it was no surprise that third year hit me hard. Doubts about God's goodness, the truth of God's Word, and God's love for me flooded my mind constantly. I was struggling to understand what I really believed about God and about myself. Depression, always a lurking force in the background, was given ample opportunity with my defenses down. It was through God's providence that I found myself living at the Study Center that year through the Elzinga Residential Scholars Program, where I had the incredible blessing of rooming with David Katcher and being mentored by Jay. As David helped shine light on my doubts and acknowledge them for what they were, Jay helped me to hold on to God's love through it all. The love of these friends, whom I would have never known without the Study Center, had a transformative effect on my life.
Coming home to the Study Center became a respite from the world every single day because of the loving community in which I found myself that year. The Study Center as a whole helped me strip away the prideful identity that I had built up to hide my doubt by giving me a space to question, reflect, read, and rest. Bill's class, a part of the residential program, helped form the way I thought about the plan and providence of God, oriented towards restoration, newness, and wholeness of creation and of relationship. The dinners with the other residents opened doors to personal, meaningful, and deep conversations, that in turn lead to some of my closest friendships. By the end of my third year, I knew that, if nothing else, God was worth pursuing.
God seemed to have similar thoughts about me because as God (and Jay) would have it, I was going to be an intern at the Study Center the next year. Being a part of the intern program has completed my Study Center experience. I am here multiple times a week, I still meet with Jay, and I get to have weekly dinners with other students. Through it all, the Study Center has never been a space where I have to perform my faith. I have gotten to come every week to meetings, dinners, and small groups with my questions and doubts and fears, and every week chip away at them once again. I have come to realize through the Study Center that it is vital to work through one's inner chaos with Jesus, rather than pretend the chaos simply doesn’t exist. But to do that requires us to step back, to step away, and reflect and wrestle and pray. The Study Center is this amazing space of grace that requires nothing of you, but welcomes you with selfless hospitality. More can always be found by pressing in to the treasure trove of lectures, small groups, dinners, programs, and its many books. But participation in these is not required to experience the shelter of God manifest here. I am never forced to the believe things that I don’t, but I am encouraged—through community, books and heartfelt conversations—in what I hope to be true: that God is good, that God is love, and that God will be totally victorious over sin and death. And as I come to believe that more and more, I will continue in the books and the friendships and the conversations, at the Study Center, in Japan next year, and beyond, wherever the Lord shall take me.
Jesse Ross, CLAS '18