I stepped into my junior year at college prepared for a powerful lot of learning. I knew beforehand that it was the year for challenges and accomplishments. I knew that it was supposed to form my mind more definitively while at the same time broadening its outlook. That was sort of thing I was prepared for.
And in some ways I got it. Reading the onslaught of modern thought, represented by philosophers such as Descartes and Kant, simultaneously with the traditions from St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica and Aristotle's Politics, taught me more about how to navigate deeper and trickier waters in search of truth.
But the primary lesson I took away from the year was something that wasn't a part of the curriculum. It was the conviction that without love, none of this matters.
It was a year of trying to find a balance between getting good grades and being there for the people who needed my love and support. By the time second semester came around, it became clear that I couldn't fully embrace both of those things. One of them had to be given priority. After a struggle, I chose loving.
Part of loving was studying, of course, because that was my primary job as a student. But if there was a conflict between something school-related and something love-related, the school-related thing had to take the backseat. Study had to be set aside to be there for the girl who needed to cry. Class had to be set aside to fly to my grandmother's funeral. Love had to be my top priority.
For a person who has always been very duty-focused, this was hard to do at first. Practically speaking, these conflicts didn't come up too much, and it was a rare day when I didn't finish an assignment before class. Theoretically speaking, the mere idea of resolving to put aside school for something else appalled me.
But as time went on and I stuck to the resolution, it became clearer to me that my education isn't essentially about doing assignments, but about loving God. Learning, like everything else, should be for Loving. If someone needed my love, then setting aside a couple math problems and choosing them instead wasn't forsaking my education. Rather, it was being true to it, true to what it's really about.
What it's really about is loving God with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves. Good grades are nice extras, but they're temporal things. If I'm turning away someone who needs love for the sake of seeing a shiny row of A grades on my report card, then I'm choosing the wrong thing.
Shortly before finals week, when I was struggling the most with the decision to love first that I had made, one of my brother's classmates gave me a copy of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. He gave me assurance when he said:
What availeth a great dispute about abstruse and obscure matters for not knowing which we shall not be questioned at the day of judgment?....Learning is not to be blamed, nor the mere knowledge of anything which is good in itself and ordained by God; but a good conscience and a virtuous life are always to be preferred before it.....Verily, when the day of judgement comes, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done; nor how learnedly we have spoken, but how religiously we have lived.
I still have one year of school left. I intend to apply myself diligently to my studies and work hard. But I intend more than anything to love first of all, because learning without love won't matter in the end.