I have been asked recently how I have been able to maintain my faith while living on a college campus. From an outside perspective, faith and “the college experience” don’t seem to coincide… and in a lot of aspects they don’t. I had to figure it out myself when I got to Tallahassee. But through the grace of God and making some hard but smart decisions, it is possible to reconcile the two worlds of a college student wanting to stay true to their faith. Thankfully, I have navigated (and am still navigating) how to walk with Jesus and have the best college experience I could ever imagine.
This time two years ago, I was getting ready to leave home and start a life in Tallahassee as a Florida State University student. I was just as nervous as I was excited. Everyone has the idea of what a traditional “college experience” looks like. To be completely truthful, I was excited about having that experience myself. I had almost everything about my college life planned out, from joining a sorority to living with the roommate I’d met online. (Kinda sketchy sounding, I know, but hey I’m still here…so I guess it turned out okay!) The only thing I wasn’t quite sure of was how my faith was going to fit in to my plans. My faith became real to me my senior year of high school, and it was the first time I truly asked Jesus to be the center of my life. I remember having conversations with my mom on her bed saying, “Gosh! I want to be a Christian, I just hope I don’t get sucked into that college lifestyle,” which makes me laugh now because I acted as if I didn’t have the choice.
I enrolled at Florida State during the summer semester of 2015. I’d been advised by some friends a few grades above me that a summer start was the best way to go, because it gives you a chance to get comfortable with the campus and classes before everything really picks up for the fall. I also used that semester to try out the “college experience” and see just how much fun I was going to have in what everybody refers to as “The Best Four Years of Your Life!” During that time, when I was completely honest with myself, I knew the “fun” wasn’t living up to all the hype. I tried to ignore all the guilt I had while accompanying my roommate into bars and clubs, telling myself that it was what’s normal and what you’re supposed to do in college. After a few weeks, I got tired of convincing myself I was having fun and justifying how awful I felt on the inside. I decided that the fun of the “party girl” lifestyle wasn’t worth feeling so bad about myself. I was exhausted from thinking, “It’s just what you have to do in college,” and pushing away the conviction of the Holy Spirit inside me.
I decided that I wanted to use my four years to grow in my faith and follow the Lord’s will for my life rather than rely on my salvation and God’s grace as an excuse to do whatever I wanted. I knew I needed to make some really important decisions and take some actions that would ultimately change the way the next four years would go. Luckily, the summer semester was coming to an end, and I had the fall to establish some new, healthier habits that would allow me to be the person I knew I wanted to be. My heart and mind embraced a new way of thinking: I didn’t want to give up what I wanted ultimately to satisfy what I wanted immediately.
So, here are some of the things I’ve been learning that have helped me to walk out my faith while being surrounded by all of the temptations of college. Granted, I do not have it figured out…at all!! In fact some of the things on this list I am still forcing myself to do (or am in the process of doing). I’ve learned that it’s all about finding balance and knowing that you’re not always gonna get it 100% right, but knowing truth and chasing Jesus will never steer you wrong.
Community. There is no way you can do it alone. In fact, the Lord commands that we live in community. The first thing I knew I needed to do was surround myself with a community of other Christ followers from the get go. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. For me, this community is Young Life. Going into college, I thought that I was going to join a sorority and make all of my best friends through Greek life, but I am so glad I decided not to. This is not me saying that sororities are bad. At all! Some of the best girls I’ve met on campus are in sororities. It’s just about knowing how much of your time you have to invest in things and finding the balance of what fills you up both personally and spiritually. For me, pledging wasn’t in the balance. Young Life was my first instinct because it’s what I was most familiar with from high school, which is the beauty of this organization. I started attending Young Life College events and quickly met some of my best friends, three of whom are my current roommates. It also became a place that I could do ministry by becoming a Young Life leader. YL is one of the best and most worthy organizations I’ve ever given my time and energy to. While this has been a great fit for me, Young Life is certainly not the only way to meet college-aged believers. There are countless campus ministries and student groups with the sole purpose of connecting college-aged Christ followers. Use whatever your campus’ version of “club rush” is to learn about all of the ministries your campus has to offer. Finding your community is the best way to set yourself up for success in pursuing your faith in college.
Find and become involved in* a local church. I put an asterisk by “become involved in” because that is something I’m still working on doing. This is something that the Lord calls us to do as Christ followers, and I believe it is just as important in college. This is another place where you can establish community. I spent my first year trying out different churches before I ultimately settled on one this past year. I know as a college student who goes to bed sometimes only hours before the real world is getting up for the day, its hard to get yourself out of bed before noon! (I’m speaking from experience.) Most churches around campuses have a Sunday evening service that works well for many people. But even if your campus-area churches don’t offer such convenient times, commit to going every Sunday you can. When I make going to church a priority, It gives me a consistency in my week and makes my new city feel like home.
Staying in the word. I’m already halfway through college and just this past summer had a revelation about how not only important, but FUN reading the Bible is! It is the only tangible thing we have on earth that is the word of God. Growing up, I had the misconception that because it was written so long ago, that the Bible has nothing to do with our lives today. Goodness! That could not be further from the truth! Psalm 119 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” I feel like as Millennials, the only thing we crave more than free food is something to light and guide our path. Well, we have that light, if we can learn to see it.
I’m writing this post because I want girls my age to know that it IS possible to be on a college campus and not only maintain but grow in your faith. The temptations are real, but the promises and blessings of God are so much better! I am so thankful the Lord has found me time and time again and allowed me to use this season of my life to grow closer to him than ever before. If I’m being truthful, there are moments when I still wonder if I am missing out on anything or not getting the full “college experience.” But by being surrounded with like-minded community and constantly hearing truth, I remember that there is so much more to life than boys and bars.
About a month ago, I took some of my high school girls to camp at Sharptop Cove and was really struck by something our camp speaker said. He said, “If the God who created the mountains and the sky and the seas and something as magnificent as all of humanity is real, do you really think the best he could come up with for fun is beer pong and hookups?” As funny as it is, it’s SO true. When I wonder if I am missing out on the fun of college, I think about how I have had the best overall two years of my life, experiencing more real, meaningful fun than I could imagine ever existed. Because following Jesus is fun, and living life with people who love him just as much as you is one of the greatest gifts he could ever give us, we CAN and should maintain our faith in every season of life, especially while in college.