By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
Gap years. To some, that may sound like a useless, free-spirited, wasted year. But to others, a gap year sounds like the wisest decision someone could make.
Many high school seniors who graduated in May of this year have decided to take a gap year.
Perhaps they had originally planned to do so prior to the pandemic, or maybe the effects of COVID-19 played into their decision. After all, perhaps they weren’t quite sure what they wanted to study at college or what trade to pursue, and it made little sense to spend tens of thousands of dollars to attend a virtual school, and miss out on several campus activities.
And this doesn’t just include seniors. Many students who had attended college in previous years or pursued a trade program decided to take a break this year.
No matter what the case, many students taking a gap year this year may have felt like they’ve made a mistake. “Maybe I should have stayed in school a year. My parents wanted me to graduate in four years, and now I’m prolonging this decision.”
In this article, we’ll discuss if taking a gap year is the right decision, and if so, how to make the most of the year away from school, a trade program, or other career path.
Question One: Am I Following God’s Calling?
Have you felt a distinctive call from God to take a year off? Do you feel called to pursue a part-time, or perhaps, full-time job and put studies aside?
If so, if you’ve dedicated hours of prayer and consulted with seasoned Christian mentors, and all signs seem to point toward a gap year, you have likely chosen a faithful decision. Sometimes it isn't about the right or wrong choice, but just making one with the goal of glorifying God--and that's enough.
We do also have to keep in mind that entire years of rest did exist in the Bible when God instituted a Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:1-13). During the Year of Jubilee, the Israelites would rest and would cancel all debts and return land to rightful owners.
Perhaps God has selected this year as one of rest. Maybe you have tried to apply to every job possible, even ones that earn minimum wage, and have not had any luck in the current market conditions.
No matter what the case, God does appoint certain seasons of our lives to rest and others to productivity. It is quite possible he has chosen to do so in your life.
This doesn’t mean to sit back and watch Disney+ and do nothing else for months on end.
But this could mean dedicating this year to serving others, to reaching out in fellowship to the lost and lonely, to spending more time with God in the Word and determining his plans for your life.
If, however, you have not felt a distinctive calling from God to pursue a gap year, in fact, you’ve felt resistance from the Holy Spirit on this matter, it is possible that you have not made the correct decision. Determining God’s will can be difficult at times, but this article by Dr. David Jeremiah can provide some ways to unearth it in your own life.
Question Two: Do I Know What I Want to Do Occupationally and Vocationally?
Before we dive into this question we need to establish some definitions.
Occupation: A job
Vocation: A calling
The two don’t always mean the same thing. God may call us into a certain occupation, but our vocation may differ or not even run on the same plane as our occupation.
No matter what the case, it seems that society expects us to have both of these nailed down by the time we graduate high school. Often, by the time we’ve reached the age of eighteen, we don’t know what job we should pursue, how our skillset fits into the world, or even a sense of vocation (I know I certainly didn’t).
Students will often pursue exploratory degrees for a year or two, knocking out Gen Ed. courses, before they have an inkling of what major to pursue. Even then, they may, a few years into their degree, regret that decision.
My friend, for instance, had an exploratory degree for a year. Afterward, he decided to pursue teaching. Unfortunately, his school didn’t have them do student-teaching until nearly his last year. By then, when he discovered he actually didn’t like teaching, he felt he had to complete the degree, even though he had no desire to pursue that occupation post-graduation.
Maybe you want to avoid a similar scenario and only go to school or only pursue a trade once you have near absolute certainty that you want to pursue that path.
If this is the case, you’ve likely chosen correctly to take a gap year. Gap years allow for us to recharge and to reevaluate what path we want to pursue vocationally and occupationally.
This time also allows us to explore talents and gifts we may not have discovered previously.
As discussed before, this doesn’t mean sitting back and watching TV and doing nothing else. But we can make a productive time out of our gap year and strategically discover where we truly fit.
However, if you have felt a firm calling on your life, and like Jonah, you’re running away from it to pursue a gap year, then you may not have chosen correctly. Oftentimes our culture encourages non-commitment, so you may feel the pull of not wanting to choose, even though God has set a clear path before you.
Make sure to spend lots of time in prayer and in the Word to determine if non-commitment has taken over your life as opposed to a loss of a sense of direction.
Final Question: Do You Have a Plan for Your Gap Year?
Many students can often go into a gap year without any plan. I remember, when I graduated high school, many seniors who said something along the lines of, “It would be nice to take a year off. I don’t know what I want to do with that time, but who knows? Maybe I’ll travel or I’ll get a job or something.”
Even if you don’t have a plan for your future, it is a good idea to go into a gap year with a proactive plan. Some may choose to use this time to get a part-time job to save up for college, so they don’t have as much student debt.
Others may want to move to another state or country, COVID-19 depending, and wrestle with the important questions of life away from home. And others may want to use the time to get plugged into a local church and serve the community.
No matter what the case, if you want to take a gap year, and you want to make the best use of time, make sure to have a plan or purpose statement going into the year, or even semester, away from school or a job.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, we’ve learned that even when we’re granted time to rest, we don’t always make the best use of it. Make sure, prior to taking a gap year, that you have some clear sense of direction on how you want to best use the time off.
Gap years are not innately wrong decisions. Many young adults will take them to figure out the next steps of their lives, to save money, or to reevaluate the current trajectory of their occupation or vocation.
Even if you feel like you may have taken a gap year in error, it is never too late to learn what God is teaching you and to follow his plan. It's never too late for God to work for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
No matter what reason you’ve chosen to pursue a gap year, either way, make sure to spend time with God daily and earnestly seek his will during this time of rest and rejuvenation.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Kristopher Roller
Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 600 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) Den (releasing July 2020), Dear Hero (releasing September 2020), and Dear Henchman (releasing 2021) Find out more about her at her website.