By Trena Smith Reed
What do you do when you find the door at the end of the God-ordained path bolted shut? What do you do when no amount of knocking or calling opens that door?
Understanding the best ways to help students prepare faith-questioning, faith-quaking, faith-rending life is a daily challenge for Rich Carlson, Union’s vice president for spiritual life. And he’s discovered there’s not a one-answer solution.
To facilitate each student’s personal journey, Union offers a variety of worship options including HeartScan, a program of spiritual mentorship pairing individual students with a faculty or staff member to walk the faith-journey together.
Dealing with a slammed door
For Melissa Burton, 2017 graduate and now office coordinator for the Physician Assistant Studies program, this meant a mentor to walk with her down that neon-arrow, cheerleader-lined path to the perfect job—and to walk with her when that door slammed.
“That really shook me,” she admitted when she didn’t get her dream job as planned. “I remember bawling my eyes out. I asked: why did that door shut? Why did it slam in my face?”
And Sharyn Adams, Melissa’s spiritual mentor as a part of the HeartScan program, shared a candid answer: I don’t know. Then she encouraged Melissa. She listened to her. She prayed with her. She walked the hard path with her. And now, on the other side of the crisis, Melissa is grateful for her mentor’s encouragement and support. (Oh, and she’s flourishing in a job she loves.)
As a student, Melissa chose to participate in HeartScan because, as an introvert, she found large corporate worship intimidating and unfulfilling. HeartScan provided an opportunity to connect on a personal level with someone she trusted and admired.
In HeartScan, she and her mentor met regularly to focus on growing a relationship with God, and Melissa didn’t have to worry about going to enough campus worship services to meet the attendance requirements for Union students.
They talked about school and work and relationships and this God-life, because God isn’t found only on church property or in the little chapel in the dorm. God is waiting in the halls, in the cafeteria, in the library; He’s sitting on the bench watching the squirrels; He’s even in the Krueger Center. God is found right here: in the middle of this messy relationship-life.
Through these mentoring relationships, Melissa found the courage to face her fear of graduating and traversing the alien, responsibility-riddled, scary landscape waiting on the other side. She found talking with someone who was successfully navigating after-college life encouraging. Her mentor not only faithfully represented life’s difficulties—because the truth is life can be hard and ugly and mean—but also shared insights into meeting life’s challenges and finding joy.
Union, Melissa said, prepared her to be comfortable and confident in any job she accepts. “The Union experience helped me find within myself the ability to be comfortable, well-equipped, and able to approach work with joy, purpose, and mission,” she said.
Now, she no longer fears the pressures and responsibilities of “adulting.” Melissa enjoys her job and is excited to be a Union staff member.
Mentoring comes full circle
Now as a Union employee, her choice to step up and walk the faith-journey with a student as a HeartScan mentor was an easy one. She chose to mentor a former classmate and, because of their friendship, the transition from mentee to mentor was smooth. She doesn’t see herself as a guide, instead she sees herself as a fellow traveler. And because of their friendship and trust, they are able to discuss weighty and challenging issues.
As with her own mentors, Melissa wants to continue fostering their friendship; in this way they can encourage and support each other through questions inside and outside of organized religion. She is following in the footsteps of her mentors whose life-encompassing approach to HeartScan allowed her to be “real and realistic” about where she stands with God and how she feels about God, the corporate church, and the people who make up the church body.
These discussions and discoveries are vital to a healthy, abundant, Christ-centered life. With the box-checking restrictions of worship attendance lifted, and because of the relationships built, Melissa was able to sift through life’s challenges and confront complex spiritual questions. It was these discussions reaching beyond academic and spiritual education that prepared Melissa for her life after graduation—a life she no longer fears, a life she embraces and celebrates.
When asked if she would recommend HeartScan to other students, Melissa said, “Yes! I think it’s good for students to connect one-on-one with staff and faculty.
“I think it’s effective to have a staff or faculty member who students can be accountable to; who they can talk with; who can give them advice on life on the other side of graduation; who can give them a little bit of structure that’s not necessarily classroom structure. HeartScan gives students a spiritual mentor or a life mentor, as in my case. I think that’s good too, to have somebody there to help you overcome whatever you’re going through.”