I recently came across the Hebrew word astab in Ecclesiastes 10:9. Within this context, the word means “physically harmed”; “He who quarries stones is hurt by them, and he who splits logs is endangered by them.” This is not an earth-shattering discovery, but when I began to search through the other meanings of the word, a recurring concept from my life throughout the past few years came alive. According to the Strong’s Concordance, astab has a wide range of meanings: “to grieve,“ “to hurt,” “to stretch into shape,” and “to worship.” What really hit me was a word that implied pain could also be used to describe being molded through the act of worshiping. I have just finished up my first two years here at IWU, and I can truly say this verb has been present in my life.
Coming to college has been a stretching experience from which I have grown in ways I could have never imagined. (And I am not just being sentimental, this is for real.) God has taught me to trust him with everything I have; he has held me in the arms of the loving people in this community and has taught me to laugh and to love through many formative experiences. The past two years have been a beautiful time of growth full of freedom grasped, wisdom learned, and healing obtained. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? The only catch is that it’s been hard. Growth, though beautiful, is painful. Dr. Bressler, one of the JWHC professors, has a perfect illustration of this. We are all ice sculptures in the making, and God must take an ice pick and shave away the parts that don’t belong as he carves us into the image of his Son. This is why I think the word astab can mean both pain and worship. As we worship God and are stretched by him, it is not always fun; oftentimes, it means facing our fears, letting go, and letting God chip away.
This may sound discouraging, but when you think about it, the individuals who grew in the Bible usually struggled through growth. David is a great example of this. When you read the Psalms he penned, it is quite evident that his life was not typically characterized by fluffy bunnies and rainbows; he often struggled. Yet when you read the accounts of his life, you discover that he grew despite the difficulty and became a great ruler. In Jeremiah 18:6 God tells Jeremiah, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does? … Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.” If clay had nerves and pain receptors, I have a feeling it would describe the sculpting process as a painful one, but in the end, something beautiful results. God wants to do this sculpting with us, and college is an amazing time for the process to happen. Don’t be discouraged by the difficulties, because although there is some pain, there are also heaps of laughter and amazing memories. God does not solely use painful things to sculpt us, he also uses great conversations, incredible friendships, and beautiful experiences in which we encounter his love. So even though you may encounter difficult seasons, your time at IWU will be beautifully formative, and when you graduate you will look a little more like Christ.