Being Forged in the Fire

By Heidi Forget, MSW, LICSW
Counselor, Gordon College Counseling Center

Students, I want to talk to only you right now. No one else. Not to faculty or staff, parents or guardians. Not to the people you answer to, the people funding your scholarships or the people paying for your car insurance—just you. You have cried out to us this semester at the Counseling Center for support in unprecedented numbers and wisely sought help from staff, faculty, mentors, parents, friends and anyone who could lend you solid footing, if even for a moment.

As your therapists we are the privileged ones who you entrust with your unhealed wounds, your vulnerabilities, your hallowed stories. You entrust us with your brains that feel broken and harass you with inattention, sadness, racial trauma, self-loathing, doubt and obsessive thoughts and behaviors that circle back unbidden and unwelcome. You entrust us with your bodies that ache for sleep and approval from others and yourselves. 

We carefully lean into your secret whispers that you wonder if, when released, will shatter your world, leaving you alone and unlovable. We are honored to receive these exceptional and authentic versions of your lives that the world, and at times even the church, has told you are too alarming to bring into the light of day. We are the recipients of these sacred narratives that have been forged in the fire; raw, waiting to be worked into a new creation and quenched with a hiss. This quenching is the release of the heat and tension; the moment of molecular transformation from what was once unfortified, into something enduring and unmarred by trial.

Students, you have been in the red-hot fire this semester.

First-year students, you have done something no other class has done. The ending of your senior year evaporated amidst a pandemic and you waited anxiously to learn whether Gordon would open to receive you, along with your hopes of college being what high school was not. You arrived to masks, protocol and Chapel on the quad in chairs, spread out like little student islands; uncertain, scared and longing for normalcy. You arrived to open arms, at a six-foot-distance. You left home and began your college career not knowing if you would be home again in two weeks, shut down from COVID-19 exposure. You’ve struggled to adjust, to establish a rhythm, to focus while reading, to engage when asked, to be present during Zoom lectures, to make friends and to be brave and confident upon ground that keeps shifting beneath you.

Sophomores and juniors, you have struggled with all these, too, but also with the stark interruption of the life you worked so hard to establish your first year, a year you were not even able to complete. You have been cut off from friends and loved ones in other residence halls, from events and sports that kept you grounded and joyful throughout the year. You have navigated conflict with roommates and friends and silently wrestled with resentment as each of you try to navigate different levels of comfort with COVID-19 exposure and protocol while trying to maintain meaningful relationships.

Seniors, some of you will say goodbye to Gordon in only a few short weeks as you end your college career midyear. You are struggling valiantly to create closure ex nihilo, to punctuate this milestone without any of the structures or connections that facilitate proper goodbyes. And those of you who are graduating in May, you are also grieving similarly, anticipating that your ending may also be far more complicated and unfulfilling than you had imagined throughout your time here.

Regardless of who you are on this campus, you are living your lives as no other college students have before. You are living and learning amidst a pandemic, political turmoil, continued racial oppression and global suffering. Uncertainty is your one constant. Anxiety and fear are part of your individual worlds, but they are also the landscape of our current nation and our world. This is to say nothing of the personal complexities of what is occurring at your homes and in the lives of your family members.

What you have done this semester is hard. So. Very. Hard.

You are being forged in the fire, deep in the fiery coal. At the close of this semester the only thing you should be saying to yourselves and to each other is . . . I did it. We did it. However your grades return, whatever goals left unachieved or conversations unfinished; whatever shape you are in as you limp over the finish line this semester, I encourage you to smile the smile of one who has finished a marathon; soiled, spent, numb and disoriented, but also triumphant.

This semester, not unlike the last eight months of all our lives, has left a trail of debris. Deep wounds have been inflicted and even deeper healing is required. Our small campus has been a microcosm of what is occurring in the world at large. However, our community is different from others because each of you have come to this place with a desire to learn, to be challenged, to transcend. You came to Gordon College to acquire knowledge and become skillful in ways that you hope will provide you and your family with an improved existence. You chose this institution for your own personal reasons, but each of you likely arrived here with a collective expectation that the process of learning could be different, exceptional in some way; that toil would be imbued with sacred ambition and fellow sojourners while dissimilar, would be linked by a holy kinship.

Learning can ignite passion and bestow wisdom. But with this education can come an awakening that prompts outrage, disgust and indignance. They are two sides of the same coin; one provides fuel, the other, mooring. We need you to need both. Friends, be set aflame with passion and vision. Welcome indignance like a new friend you are both intrigued and intimidated by, and use it all to drench a parched world with the love, creativity and gifting that only you can impart. 

You are the new generation we depend on that is coming of age in an unfamiliar land, and you are finding your way in the inky dark of night. You must demand justice for the oppressed. You must labor for inexplicable love that rights wrongs. You must befriend the estranged and care for the sick among us, but most of all, you must set a place at the Table of abundance for anyone who wishes to attend.  

Every one of you is being forged in the fire, waiting to be quenched.

You are hurting . . . every last one of you. 

Please see each other with tender eyes as those approaching the Table of abundance; bellies aching, hearts fearful and anxious, and each of you longing for a place to sit and rest.

Please extend grace undeserved, love unrequested. Isn’t this the great Mystery after all?

You are spent, burnt out, weary of conflict, of each other, and of a world that continues to present seemingly unsolvable problems and meager solutions.

May we all go in peace this winter break, seeking rest, solace, wisdom, clarity and renewal. May we allow this time to settle upon us like fallen snow that dampens sound, quiets the cities and reflects the brilliant moonlight, drawing our eyes upward. 

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly. This is our charge.

May we recommit ourselves to this charge and to each other. May we return in the spring with resolve to see each other as one holy kinship working to create a place at the Table of abundance not for ourselves, but for our fellow traveler, that they with us, might sit a spell. 

May we be willing to lay down our lives for our sisters and brothers, that the quenching may begin.