Every culture has some rite of passage. For example, Native American male youth go on vision quests while the Amish practice rumspringa, a time to venture out of their community and into the world. Here in the United States, we have college. While only slightly more than half of high school graduates go directly to college, I argue that it is a “rite of passage” for many.
And naturally, college life becomes more and more challenging for students to navigate. From my observation, students are less prepared emotionally and financially to leave home. From my years in youth ministry, I have noticed another alarming trending—college freshmen are not prepared spiritually to face the challenges that await them. It’s no secret that American churches are seriously lacking 18-30 year-olds or that many children raised in the church will never return after turning 18. Is it just me or does anyone else feel sick?
From my first college class, I was slapped across the face with beliefs that contradicted everything I was taught to hold dear. Of course, I questioned what I believed! I remember the pivotal moment that began to solidify my faith. I was in a world philosophy class when my professor said there are no strong female characters in the Bible—save for Mary who was known for being a mother and a virgin. I raised my hand to remind her of Deborah, who ruled Israel in the book of Judges. My learned professor never heard of Deborah, so I proceeded to tell her and the class the tale of the judge. I didn’t know it then, but that was my faith in action.
As much as I complain about how the church and Christian high school failed me, I can also say they equipped me with uncompromising knowledge of God and the Bible. At the fragile age of 19, I then learned to truly let go of my foolish ways and cleave to God and God alone. After that, I defied the statistic. I was a 19 year-old who went to church (and took a car full of girls with me).
My strong convictions allowed me to avoid of lot of what people think makes college great—drinking, sex, parties. I don’t want to sound like a prude (although maybe I am), but the whole drinking, drugs, sex scene gets old fast. I avoided that when I was in college because my mom and I didn’t take out thousands of dollars in student loans so I could waste my chance at a higher education. I never went to a frat party, but I did drink part of a margarita at my 21st birthday bash, and I am still a virgin. My late night endeavors were hanging out with the gals from Christian fellowship and friends from church, or in the college newspaper office finishing lay-out so we could make our publishing deadline. Once I slept in the quad—not in a drunken stupor—but to bring attention and raise money for the homeless. And it was amazingly fun!
What my friends didn’t realize was that they needed God. Once I sat with a friend who tearfully recounted her weekend experience at a party…or what she could remember of it. She thought she was raped, but she didn’t know for sure. Another girl quietly told me about her abortion, how she regretted it, and that my “Abortion Is Murder” sweatshirt was offensive (incidentally, I threw it out. She’s right. It was offensive). On September 11, 2001, I was a senior in college. Professors and students asked me to pray with them—sworn atheists looking for something more. We are all looking for something more.
I would hate to leave you with the impression that my college life was just perfect, because that is far from true. My sophomore year started after a rocky summer in which my mom discovered my father was having an extra-marital affair leading to a subsequent separation and then divorce. The spring of my junior year I became ill and had emergency surgery so that I would not go blind, two weeks after that I almost died from a blood clot in my brain. I spent 17 days in the hospital—and it was horrible (read more:: “Spiritual and Physical Hypochondria”). Oh, and I was and still am a recovering cutter who battles depression and anxiety (and now trauma). Life was (and is) far from rosy.
However, in all these things I had (and still have) God as my strong foundation. Without His love and support, I would have crumbled. I also had solid friends who spurned me on by their kindness and faith and a church that fed me with the Word of God. It’s a mad house out there and college students need God. They have always needed God, both Christian and non-Christian students. Sometimes they’re just not educated enough to realize it.