Fourth Year Reflection: Rebekah Leary

Rebekah Leary
Rebekah Leary

I came to UVA with a flawed view of the gospel: I believed that God’s love for me was based on my works and that others’ love was determined by whether I was able to meet their expectations of being a “good Christian,” student, friend, and leader. I grew up in a Christian home and had come to understand that I was a sinner in need of a Savior, but I didn’t know how the gospel truly worked in and through every aspect of my life. I arrived at Move-In Day Lunch as a legalistic people-pleaser, and ever since that day, the Study Center has welcomed me into its community and played an integral role in my struggling, questioning, and growing as a Christian.

First Year: Identity

My top priority first year was to impress people with my humor, enthusiasm, and faith. I often came to the Study Center to procrastinate and try to get on the staff’s good side by helping with Exam Snacks. On one such afternoon, I ran into Shelly Pellish and she asked me if I wanted to be an intern at the Study Center for the upcoming academic year. I remember being so surprised that she would want me to intern. I didn’t see how my outward actions merited that position. I would spend the next year (or two) trying to live up to my own unrealistic expectations of being the best intern, student, and leader. But the internship program was the beginning of God showing me that I didn’t need to perform or be put together to be a part of his family.

The staff at the Study Center have supported me through every phase of my college career, teaching me the importance of rest, vulnerability, and security in my identity in Christ. Shelly showed me infinite grace when I forgot to come in for my intern work shifts, arrived late to meetings, or acted cranky and impatient towards my fellow interns. I came to the Study Center countless times when I was struggling with doubt, unmotivated to study, or just exhausted; and every time, I was confronted with the truth that this community and the God we worship accepts and loves me despite my flaws and insecurities.

Second Year: Rest

As a second year, I followed the classic UVA pattern of signing up for as many commitments and responsibilities as I could. I had zero boundaries for myself and didn’t see the need for them. Essentially, I wanted to believe that I didn’t have limits—that I could play God for my friends and various organizations. This all came to a head at the end of fall semester, when I was contemplating dropping out due to depression, burnout, and complete apathy towards my education. Shelly saw that I was struggling to keep up, crumbling under the pressure of all the obligations and expectations I put on myself. She encouraged me to acknowledge how I was really doing and to ask my professors for grace in the upcoming exam period. In addition to this, she gave all the interns the book Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. Through the ministry of the Study Center, I grew in my understanding of rest and the importance of acknowledging my limits. God created me with weaknesses and finitude so that I can further glorify his power and grace in my life. Where I am weak, he is strong.

Third Year: Vocation

During my third year, I declared my major: Youth and Social Innovation, with a focus on Global Studies in Education. The courses focused on education inequality around the world and issues of international development. I was constantly overwhelmed by all the brokenness in the world and the ways that my own sin and the sins of people around the world contributed to this brokenness and inequality. I oscillated between wanting (again) to play God and try to fix more problems than any individual possibly can, and feeling so small and insignificant in the fight against injustice that I was paralyzed to do anything at all. Thankfully the Study Center hosted Christian author and scholar Steve Garber the year prior. He gave a talk entitled, “Can We Know the World and Still Love It?” which affirmed my discouragement in the face of the brokenness I encountered in my classes. The lecture also gave me a starting point to put injustice into a biblical framework. He said that as Christians we are not only called to know and understand the world we live in, but once we know it, we have a calling to interact with the world and spread the love of Christ. The biggest gift that the Study Center has given me has been the knowledge of how my desires, hurts, and, as Garber put it, “the questions that I want to spend my life answering,” all fit into God’s bigger work of redeeming the world.

Prayer at Weekly Intern Dinner
Prayer at Weekly Intern Dinner

Fourth Year: Stewardship

I arrived at UVA as a legalistic, works-focused Christian with a shallow understanding of the gospel, but I am leaving as someone who can rest in the assurance of God’s love for me. I still have a lot of areas to grow in my faith, but I have a much deeper understanding of how Christ informs how I view myself, others, and my role in the world. Through my time as an intern, mentee, and attendee of talks and Bible studies at the Study Center, I have learned that I am called to steward the gifts, time, and interests God has given me for his glory.

In one of his books, Tim Keller says, “And so in every action by which we treat him as glorious as he is, whether through prayer, singing, trusting, obeying, or hoping, we are at once giving God his due and fulfilling our own design.” The Study Center has shown me that in everything I do, whether as a friend, student, or laborer, I am using the unique ways God created me to reflect his image to the world. As I look back at my time at the Study Center, I am incredibly grateful to have such a ministry in my life.

Rebekah Leary, CLAS '17