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CAN YOU KEEP YOUR FAITH IN COLLEGE?
By ABBIE SMITH
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2006 Abbie Smith
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE TRANSITION
Seems like there are two kinds of transitioners: One loved high school and is scared to death of college, and the other is sick of high school and ready for something new. Either way, though, it's bound to be lonely, overwhelming, and even scary at times. And either way, the transition will mark a huge change. You won't come out the same person you went in as.
College will hold things you've never imagined. You will hear more "isms" (pluralism, satanism, individualism) than you knew existed and face more addictions (drug, alcohol, porn, eating disorders) than you thought possible.
Something I doubt you'll see, though, is addiction to God. It sounds weird, but I don't think you'll find many students wasted on Christ or hungover from a long night of ministry. I'm not advocating it, whatever it might look like. I'm just curious why, on campuses so flooded with beliefs and crazy compulsions, this would be the case.
Maybe the new thing you'll encounter is a choice of faith-a choice to believe that Jesus is who He said He is and to cling to the things He said about you. This transition won't be a cakewalk, but it also won't overwhelm God or catch Him off guard. If He's really God, it can't. -abbie
And myGod will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
IF I FAKE A SEIZURE, WILL THEY LET ME OFF?
San Diego State Amanda L.
I don't like decisions. Healthy or unhealthy? Better for me or not better for me? God's will or not God's will? Staying undecided seems safer and more under my control.
I fluctuated between wanting to go to college and not wanting to. Mostly it was wanting to, but then there was the day my parents left me at San Diego State and I bawled in the back of my dad's Buick for an hour (that's the "not wanting to" part).
My friend compared it to a roller coaster, and as I thought about it, that analogy made more and more sense. You pay your money, you want to get on, you know it's going to be a thrill, people tell you how amazing it is ... but as your turn approaches, your stomach drops. You have thoughts like, I could duck out now, or, Am I really sure I want to do this? But you stay in line. You're going to be on the next train, and your heart is now in your throat. You try to make light of it ... joke a bit ... look around at how unafraid everyone else is and think, I can do this. People do this all the time.
So you get in the car. Strap in. And you think, What in the world am I doing? This is a bad idea.
You can't just hop off, though, so you tell yourself to calm down. Train starts ... click, click, click.... until you find yourself at a more ridiculous angle than you had anticipated. Sweaty palmed, you hang on for dear life. Now you're desperate. You're thinking, If I fake a seizure, will they let me off?
Click, click, click ... You swear to God you'll never ride one of these %$#@ things again.
That's where I am right now. I am click, click, clicking my way to the top of a very scary, very unfamiliar roller coaster. I have no idea what is going to happen when I plunge over that edge. There are some major differences between the roller coaster and my situation though-the main one being that I can be completely confident in the designer, creator, owner, and operator of this particular ride. Instead of a terrifying "carnie" who hasn't seen a toothbrush in weeks, the operator of all these switches and levers is totally trustworthy, loves me beyond measure, and has promised me that He has my best interests at heart ("For I know the plans I have for you ... plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11).
I may have no idea where this ride will go, but my God, who designed it, built it, runs it, and strapped me securely into my seat, knows perfectly. Because I trust Him, I have nothing to fear. Because He is good, I know I can trust Him, and because I desire that the purpose of my life be to make His name famous, I will stay on this crazy train.
STRUGGLE TO BE REAL
About the first decision I made at my prestigious university was to check the "biology-concentrated pre-med" box for a major. I arrogantly figured I was up for a challenge. After all, I'd graduated in the top one percent of my high school class.
Not long after the first semester of college began, though, I discovered I hated biology, had no understanding of chemical processes, and could barely pass my tests. The semester was a huge wake-up call for me. Admitting that I would never become a successful doctor, I changed my major. I've changed it again since, but the first change was definitely the most drastic-from pre-med to elementary education.
Sometimes you have to understand what is not for you, in order to realize what is for you.
Looking back, I think I assumed I was some sort of omniscient human. I was a Christian all through high school, and I was sure God was just as interested in my "success" as I was.
My next big breakthrough: I realized I had picked the wrong prestigious university. I didn't belong in some lofty Christian university. All of my best friends had chosen to attend the big state school, where they spent weekends together, walked to classes in their pajamas, and got involved with sincere Christians who were real about their faith. Meanwhile, I was dressing up for class, spending weekends in the library, and attending church with pretentious Pharisees who seemed to have no depth to their faith at all. I figured I could waste a couple more years being miserable where I was, or I could humbly admit I belonged somewhere less ... distinguished. I knew that in order to continue on the path of self-discovery, I would have to do it in a place that would allow for it.
So I transferred. I think my decision to transfer schools was the hardest and maybe the most important decision I have ever made. But I have come alive in this new environment, finding a course of study that I love and finding the few, but authentic, Christians on campus to encounter God with.
My life at college has also unearthed other, smaller discoveries. Having roommates has helped me learn some personal strengths and weaknesses in the context of a home. I have learned invaluable lessons about compromise, compassion, communication, and conflict resolution. Having boyfriends helped me understand my relational flaws. Having free hours during the day led me to stumble upon new hobbies, new interests, new passions. Having responsibilities taught me to keep a budget, keep my space clean, keep a healthy diet and exercise regimen, and keep my bills paid.
Now that my college days are about to end, I'm seeing that the most important discoveries about myself have been directly related to my discovering God ... and not only discovering Him, but encountering Him. During my first two years at the private university, it was a fight to continue hearing the heartbeat of God every day. It was a struggle to be real (which for me means admitting I'm weak most of the time) when facing those who seemed to have all the right answers about God. Realizing I needed Christ desperately led me to trust in Him more, instead of trusting in myself to make something of me. Making all of the changes, both large and small, took courage that came only from Jesus.
God has revealed Himself to me in textbooks, in the world, in roommates, in a community of believers, in professors, and in life. And now I understand that I don't really know anything about anything! That I need Christ to even breathe! That my desire for more of Jesus grows as I discover the greatness of Him, and discover the insignificance of me. That's why I feel that for me, all the big discoveries have been encounters with God Himself.
THE HARDER WAY
I had just finished my junior year of high school. All I could think was, Finally, summer is here. I can sleep in and play golf every day-this is gonna be great! My father, however, saw things differently. Not more than a week after exams were done, we were on the road visiting colleges. We must have visited more than ten schools within a one-week time span. Every gym started looking the same, and every school's statistics began sounding identical. My frustrations came to an abrupt halt, however, when we made our last stop at what turned out to be the school of my dreams-Duke University.
My senior year passed quickly, while acceptance letters arrived and high school graduation came and went. August came, and I found myself moving into a Duke freshmen dorm. I gladly said good-bye to my parents, thrilled with the thought of finally being on my own.
It didn't take long for classes and the threats of college professors to abruptly put a damper on my excitement. I was managing my time with extreme diligence, not wasting a minute, but it still seemed that I would work all day and get nowhere. Although I was studying late into the nights, my grades were lower than I was used to, and I quickly discovered that college wasn't the breeze high school had been. On top of that, I wasn't making many friends. Three weeks into the semester, the eighteen-year-old who couldn't wait to get out of the house was more homesick than ever.
There I was, the son of a retired army officer and a cadet enrolled in Air Force ROTC, crying tears of frustration and loneliness almost every day. I was (and still am) a very unemotional person, but at that point in my life, I honestly struggled to even walk into the cafeteria without breaking down. I was even more humbled by my inability to not burst into tears while speaking to my father on the phone. I had never been so unhappy in my life. I reached out for God during that time, and He gave me enough strength to persevere, but the depression stayed. By Thanksgiving, I had already applied to a state school back home, where I could join my old friends in the "fun" of college. I promised my parents that I would seriously pray before making my decision, but in all honesty, I had made up my mind.
One of my biggest struggles during this time was the awareness of my parents' disapproval of my transferring. This devastated me. Although my stubbornness and rebellious nature strengthened my resolve, I was crushed to not have their support. I had sought their approval my entire life. One afternoon during this time, I wrote a song with these lyrics:
Why do rebellion and independence have to be so closely linked? Why does maturing require desertion from the army of family? I have been raised to be released like an arrow from a bow, Why does that release snap back on his arm as he lets me go?
It seems there is no choice that will end without some pain, I can go where my heart leads me, and spit in the face of my name. Or I can march on, a soldier, to the cadence of command, Only to wonder what might have been if I had lived as my own man. Why can't I see the direction that my hands and feet should go? Should I follow the path that I see best or follow orders as I was told? Will honor be lost if I disobey, and do as I believe? Will my choice throw mud on a love that could never again be clean?
Finally, the hurt I felt got the best of me, and I confronted my father. He apologized, we made amends, and then we began discussing the pros and cons of my decision. I remember him saying, "Don't take the path of least resistance," but that didn't sit quite right. But then my dad asked me a question I will never forget: "Where in the Bible did God ever tell anyone to take the easier way? It was always the harder way."
I paused and realized he was right, but immediately thought of several reasons why that didn't apply to me. About two seconds later, before I ever spoke, the conviction of the Holy Spirit rushed upon me like the weight of the ocean. I found myself laying facedown on the floor, sobbing with the realization that he was right. God did want me to take the harder way, and I was to return to Duke. I was not going to "live as my own man"; I was going to live as God's man. In that moment, I felt a closeness with both my heavenly Father and my earthly father that I will never forget. It was the perfect picture of God calling His people to perseverance, while providing the strength and comfort to achieve it.
Upon returning to Duke, I was still scared. It took only a few hours, however, to completely feel God's peace and reassurance in my life, and only a few days to see the amazing evidence of God's promise. I ended up joining a fraternity and enjoying many new friendships, as well as witnessing opportunities that I never dreamed possible. As for the academics, they were still tough, though I managed to adjust and reprioritize my workload. I was also asked to join the leadership team for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The members of that team, as well as the rest of FCA, have turned out to be my closest friends. My time at Duke has been the most challenging time of my life, but by far the most rewarding. The wisdom and maturity I have gained from the horrors of my freshman year have strengthened my faith in more ways than I can count. I can also see what Paul meant in Romans 8:28 a little more clearly: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Though the packages may look different, God remains the Giver of good gifts.
NORMAL-IT'S SO OVERRATED
Transitioning to college was rough for me. On the one hand, there was nothing better than leaving home and finally having full independence. But on the other hand, there was nothing scarier than leaving home and having full independence. I didn't even know how to do my laundry.
I grew up in the church, constantly surrounded by Christians. Youth group felt like my middle name, and I'd been in some element of Sunday school since I could remember. But to be honest with you, I was sick of it. By the time I was a senior, I was more excited about "getting away" than pretty much anything else.
The actual transition was pretty abrupt, but I loved it. Literally, with the farewell wave of my hand, I was on my own. Completely on my own. This was the easy part. The harder part came, however, when I tried to figure out a) who was I? and b) what was mine?
Again, I was the church kid, so I just assumed my identity and purpose were solid. Not so much. I wasn't protected from fear, and I certainly wasn't invulnerable to the daily temptations every college student seems to face. Clubs, sex, drinking, cheating, sex-did I already say that?-pornography, masturbation. You name it and it's here. Not here and hidden, but here, here. All of a sudden, it felt like so many things that used to seem awful were lurking at my doorstep. And the worst part was, I wanted to let them in.
For the first time since I was seven (still don't understand how kids get the whole Jesus thing, but I was one of 'em), I started questioning the most basic elements of Christianity. Plus, everyone always says God will love you regardless, so maybe this would be my "regardless" time.
Excerpted from CAN YOU KEEP YOUR FAITH IN COLLEGE? by ABBIE SMITH Copyright © 2006 by Abbie Smith. Excerpted by permission.
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