Mud-pie Joy and the College Decision

Joy, real meaningful joy, should be the most important consideration when choosing a college. What about getting a good job? Don’t worry, rewarding employment will follow the pursuit of divine joy.

I’ve been working at my alma mater for 24 years and my latest role has been in admissions. In other words, I am a professional college salesman. I am well-versed in the myriad things that students and parents should consider during a college search. The welter of factors can be overwhelming. Yet rarely have I heard of students considering joy, real true joy, not just “mud pie joy” when making a college decision. Mud pie joy is superficial joy like the joy of a packed football stadium, campus life, or the joy of considering the rewards of a future job with a good salary. Sure, these things are nice, and even important in the case of employment, but they’re not “holiday at the sea” joy.

Mud pie joy isn’t my idea. C.S. Lewis wrote nearly 80 years ago, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” I must admit that I fall into the mud-pie pit too.

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I frequently find myself giving prospective students an enticing mud-pie recipe: four-year graduation rates, accelerated student loan payoff, job placement rates, alumni salaries, etc. I can make a great mud pie, but I should be promoting the promise of a beach vacation.

Lewis wrote, “There lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing. … Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires too weak. We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex (and making mud pies) ….”

He continues, “And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth (and that) earth can be made into heaven.”

Now I can hear you thinking, this guy is an ivory-tower flake. But please read on or you may miss something really important. The joy we all seek is approval. We want to approve of ourselves, our work, service, relationships, and motives. We long for the approval of our parents. We desire the approval of our employers, our friends, the world.

Ultimately, we want to hear God say to us, “Well done.” This is the Holiday at Sea we all crave, but we get distracted by the world’s mud pies. It is true that some day we will stand before God. There is a promise of glory waiting for us. Surviving “that examination,” wrote Lewis, and experiencing “the promise of glory is only possible by the work of Christ.” He continued, “To please God, to be delighted in as an artist delights in his work … it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

So, this is the weight of glory we all bear–the desire to experience God’s joy in us. How can we fulfill that desire? John Piper so famously says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” And, he says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” In short, we’ll experience our greatest joy by glorifying God. Most important, we enjoy God, and God enjoys us, by faith in Christ. Christ is the key.

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What does all this have to do with choosing a college? To find joy in our studies and in our jobs is not an easy thing. It requires our whole heart, our soul, our whole mind, and a campus that encourages faith-integrated learning. By faith, and encouragement from like-minded faculty and friends, we can train and discipline our minds to seek God’s glory in all we do whether it be calculus or communication, English or engineering, biology or business, history or hermeneutics, drama or dorm life. This is hard work and the world is not naturally oriented to integrating faith and learning.

I contend that students will find their greatest joy in college by learning from faculty who have made it their life’s work to integrate their faith with their fields of study. Importantly, students will also find indescribable joy by learning and living with other students who share this passion as well. Finally, four years of learning and living this way will condition students for a lifetime of faithful focus and, ultimately, a life of joy. Sure, we’ll make some mud pies along the way, but the promise and pursuit of a joyful holiday at sea will always be before us.