When I taught college undergraduates and distributed my syllabus, the first thing most students did was flip pages to look at the assignments. How much reading did I assign? What about projects and due dates? Tests? Was there a term paper?

Some students approached the semester enthusiastically, despite the workload. A few students rolled their eyes; and yes, I even had one or two claim I was asking too much. 
Each student had a choice to grow and learn that semester. I wasn’t a “mid-term and final” professor. I offered opportunities for several unit tests, oral presentations, projects, clinical observations. Students might excel in one area and not do as well in another, but it meant hard work. Would they accept the challenge?

Assignments. They imply purpose, time, work, interest, learning, ability, and a due date. I took my responsibility seriously to prepare students for their professional life’s work. I wanted them to grow and become their best.

Life assignments are the same. We often question our assignments. What’s the purpose of this hurdle or detour? Seriously—all this? It’s definitely something I didn’t choose or want and I didn’t volunteer. Life assignments take time, work, and sometimes tears. Interested? No. On my radar? No, not remotely. Interfere with my plans? Yes, but I need to do it-a due date of sorts. Learning—lots to learn. Sometimes, trial and error; sometimes, uncharted territory and unknown.

My friends confirm those questions and responses. Chronic illness, a deviation from a planned life script, widowhood, financial challenges, prodigals, tension in relationships, special needs children, caring for aging parents, and disappointments, are some of their assignments. But they will also say: 

     We accept the challenge: We’re growing in our life’s work. Our hard assignments bring opportunities to depend on God and become our best even in our weakness. We have grace. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 NASB)

     We learn: It’s a curve and often we’re unprepared, but I can pray, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Psalm 25:5 NIV)

    We appreciate: Complaining about the assignment is like missing an opportunity, but I have hope. “Not for one minute, have any been without God’s love and faithfulness.  But you, Lord, are a compassionate God, merciful and patient, with unending gracious love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:15 (NIV)

    We have a new ministry: We can only pour out what’s been poured in. I often hear, “If you haven’t had a similar experience, you don’t understand. You may observe and encourage, but you don’t know”- the pain of a prodigal, when you haven’t experienced it; the struggle of a special needs child-not if you’ve been an honor roll student. But, if we’ve been there, we have a ministry. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV)

   We may not like the assignment. We vacillate in the way we live it out—from tears to acceptance and sometimes question how path. We think the assignment is unthinkable and one we would have never wanted or chosen, but the assignment, in the right perspective, offers another treasure: security. We rest in that truth.
Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup. My lot is secure
Psalm 16:5 (NIV)

How have your approached hard assignments? Have you found treasures?

Well into the first semester, here are 15 Timely Thoughts to Encourage College Freshmen

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