Dear Young Person (and Parent):
You are in a unique moment in your life. You’ve heard that already. You can probably still hear the Dr. Seuss quotes and “one chapter is closing and an exciting new chapter is about to begin” echoing in your head from the graduation speech that already seems like so long ago. You are in a unique moment in your life because, for many of you, you’re taking responsibility for your life for the first time. Yes, you have lived with responsibility and consequences (some more than others) before, but to some extent, there has been the covering of parents, other family members, a caring teacher, or a church leader. Now, it is up to you.
The everyday decisions about when you will wake up, what you are going to eat, when you will find time for friends, if you will study, and how often you will wash your clothes now fall to you and you alone. The transition into the college years is a unique moment in your life, not just because you are transitioning schools and perhaps moving to a different place, but you are in a sense experiencing a transfer of ownership over your very own life. It is in this “transfer of ownership” that so many college students make choices that cause them and others incredible pain and baggage.
As a student pastor for many years I have seen students take ownership of their lives and live abundantly, experiencing the college years in a God-honoring, productive, and exciting way. And I have seen the opposite take place, including the life-altering consequences of what our culture would refer to as “the college experience.” Which will you choose? It’s a lot to take in, I know.
If there is one thing I want you to hear as you begin the journey , it is this: There is hope. You can have an incredible college experience and close this next chapter of your life with relationships, memories, education, and a whole lot of fun, while avoiding the land mines that are in front of you. There is hope because of Jesus. There is hope because of what Jesus has done for you, what He can do in you, and what He hopes to do through you. And that is a fitting place to start our journey together here and your journey through the college years.
Dr. Jay Strack is a good friend of mine and is the president of an organization called Student Leadership University. He has spent his life pouring into teenagers and helping grow them into the leaders God has called them to be. A frequent statement I have heard him say applies directly to you at this point in your life: “In everyone’s life there is a point where the little boy or girl chooses to sit down and the man or woman chooses to stand up.” This is a statement of ownership and responsibility. We’ve mentioned a few of the everyday life kinds of things that you must now “own,” but in no way is it a complete list. Conspicuously absent from that list is the most important piece of your life to take ownership of: your spiritual life.
I know that there are people at various places in their spiritual journey who are sitting with this book right now. Some came to faith as a child, others as a teenager, some are trying to figure out what to do with Jesus, and some are still far from Him. Wherever you are in your spiritual journey, we all have the same starting point: the gospel of Jesus. Your understanding of the gospel is the single greatest influence on what your life will be like during your college years and into the future. So, in your faith, it is time for the little boy or girl to sit down and the man or woman to stand up.
Let me shoot straight with you for a second.
If you grew up in church, in a Christian school or home, there’s a good chance that you believe what you do about the gospel because it is something your parents, teachers, youth pastor, or other church leaders taught you. It was something they passed on to you, and you believed them.
It’s great that these leaders in your life are Christians, but there’s a danger here: if I described you just now, there’s a good chance that, left on your own, you will be unable to explain why you believe what you do about the gospel. There’s a good chance that you are inconsistent at best with time that you spend reading your Bible and praying. And there’s a good chance that what you believe about the gospel hasn’t translated into specific ways that it shapes who you are and how you live.
Hold on one more second and hear me out. I know there’s a good chance for these things to be true because I’ve seen thousands of students fit this description throughout my time in student ministry. And I’ve also fit this description myself.
As a high school student in a Christian home, involved in a great church, and at a Christian school, I had a hand-me-down faith. I believed it because other people whom I loved believed. Truth be told, I struggled in my faith, at times doubting my belief, and at other times being sure of it. Once the doubting of faith was settled, my struggle moved on to wondering if I was a good enough Christian, if I was strong enough in my faith. I was a leader in the youth ministry and was at that time the only one of three children “walking with Jesus” in the eyes of my parents. The expectations I felt were like a mountain of burden that lasted through my college years and beyond as I struggled to know if my faith was strong enough, if I was “good enough.”
Because of this I often found myself simply trying harder or giving more effort to living a “good Christian life,” but at the same time, I found myself on the losing side of my personal battles with sin and temptation. It was like I was constantly running but never going anywhere. This kind of life is painful and exhausting, and is the furthest thing from the abundant life that Jesus said is available to us (John 10:10).
The “good enough” struggle is a real one that plagues many, and it begins in the minds of believers who have not yet taken the step to truly own their faith. They’re still living in a hand-me-down Christianity. I was meant for so much more than life on a spiritual treadmill, constantly running and going nowhere. You are too. It’s time for you to jump off of the treadmill and take ownership of your faith, which begins with an understanding of the gospel.
Read more in the book “A Different College Experience.”
Excerpted with permission from “A Different College Experience” by Ben Trueblood and Brian Mills. Copyright 2019, B&H Publishing Group.