From the moment you begin college to when you graduate, you will be tested. Not only in academics, but in other areas of your life as well: your relationships, your mental capacity, your patience, your discipline, and in your faith.
College is a time to find out who you really are. You are handed ideas, beliefs, and information and tasked with choosing whether or not you will take it on as your own. If you are not yet confident in who you are, college can transform you into a whole new person. I have seen many friends go off to college and become someone even I don’t recognize. I’ve seen other friends give up their faith entirely. It makes me sit and wonder, “what makes the difference between someone who continues to believe in God and someone who walks away from it all?”
I don’t have all of the definitive answers, but these are some things that I am constantly practicing and am aware of. I am not perfect, but I am a 21 year old college senior and I still have a strong relationship with Jesus. So hopefully, some of these tips can help you endure as well.
Remember why you believe what you believe
A lot of times, people say that they’re Christian because it’s what their family has always been. It’s how they were raised. While growing up Christian is all fine and dandy, it means nothing if you’re not making it your OWN relationship. It cannot be your grandmother’s faith, your mom’s faith, your dad’s faith, not your uncle’s faith, it has to be yours.
In college, it can be really easy to stray away from your faith if you don’t truly know why you believe what you believe.
Seriously, take a moment and think “Am I a Christian just because all of my family is? Why do I go to church? Do I believe all of the things I’ve heard about God?” If you don’t know the answer to some of these questions, I suggest you take some time to find out for yourself. (Hint: start to read your bible – which I’ll talk about more in the next section).
If you want to take it a step further, you can even look up “apologetics”, which is literally the study of “why we believe what we believe” (defined as: reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine). Some websites I like to turn to for deeper study are: https://www.blueletterbible.org, https://www.biblestudytools.com, and https://www.biblegateway.com.
Read your Bible
One of the best places to find answers to any questions or doubts you may have is in the bible! If you don’t already have a paper bible, get yourself one, or download a bible app like YouVersion or Blue Letter Bible.
Read the Gospels and study the things that Jesus said and did while He was on earth. Reading the bible for yourself helps you to make your faith your own and refills you when you’re feeling low. The best part is that you don’t even have to understand what you’re reading for it to be effective; which sounds kind of strange, but as you read the bible, it’s still filling you up and increasing your faith. You don’t have to read chapters a day, but simply reading the verse of the day is a good place to start. The more you read, the more you will want to read.
I think setting aside some time in the mornings to do a devotional is the best way to prepare yourself for your day. I’m editing this on my first day of school, but before I started writing, I woke myself up earlier just so I could spend 20 minutes with God. On the days that I forget to read my bible, I notice that my thoughts are a little bit more negative, my patience is low, and I’m not as nice to people. I do my devotional so that I can be reminded of what it means to live like Jesus and act out what I have read throughout the day.
Find a local church or watch yours online
Your personal relationship with Jesus is very very important, but it is also important to be part of a bigger organization that believes what you believe. Church is meant to be a place where you can be encouraged with the Word of God, turn friends into family, give back to your community, and invite others to know God. Some campuses even have local bible study groups or churches nearby; reach out to your involvement center to see if this is an option. If you are unable to find a local church that suits you, find a church to watch online (whether it’s your church back home or a different one).
Find the right friends
I think most people are aware of how important it is to have the right people around you. Now, I’m not saying that all of your friends need to be Christian, but make sure that you have at least one that is. Having a friend who shares the same values as you will help you feel less alone and will hold both of you accountable. And, if you ever begin to doubt what you believe, you can go to them and they’ll hopefully listen to you, and then help get you back on the right track.
Don’t get distracted
If we give too much time and energy to anything, it can become a distraction. I would say anything (even “good things”) we hold in higher esteem than God is a distraction – and is what the bible would call an idol.
But by far, one of the distractions that I have seen derail people over and over and over and over again are romantic relationships. People think that they are in love and practically change their whole personality just to impress someone who is only bound to break their heart. They give up friends, stop caring about their grades, lose their self respect and self esteem, and drift away from God and all of the other values they used to live by. No one can tell them anything, and if you do, you’re judging them and you immediately lose any access you had to the person.
Once they come to their senses and realize what a toxic environment they have been in, they are completely changed and broken. Obviously, some relationships turn out to be good, but more often than not, people get into relationships hastily, just to fill a void. If you feel like the relationship is going to take from you or become a distraction, I personally would re-consider it for a moment.
Don’t let distractions derail you from the path you are on. The devil would throw anything at you for you to lose sight of your goals and purpose. Stay focused.
Don’t feel condemned when you mess up
We are bound to do at least one thing wrong in the course of our college career, but don’t let that keep you from God. Before you even made that bad decision, God had already forgiven you; you don’t have to run from Him. So give yourself the same grace He has given to you. It’s going to be okay. You’re not “too far gone,” and don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re beyond redemption. All you have to do is ask for forgiveness and keep it pushin.
Go to God with your doubts
There will be times when you begin to doubt what you believe in. There may be something in your science class that claims to “negate” the existence of God; some of the ideas of your atheist friends may throw you for a loop; or, you may just feel far from God. No matter the reason, don’t sink deeper into the hole, go to God. Your doubts don’t scare Him or diminish His power. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loves you whether you believe in Him or not. In your praying, you can express to Him how frustrated you are and tell Him about what you’re unsure of. He cares about you and cares about what concerns you. You may not get all of the answers right away, but He hears you and He will come through.
I am a Biology major with a concentration in ecology and evolutionary studies, so I understand how it can be sitting in a class and feeling “off” while listening to your professor belittle your faith. We may not always agree with people, but that doesn’t negate all that we have seen and experienced God do.
This is the time when you need to read your bible, put on some worship music, and surround yourself with people that will help reaffirm your faith.
If you are wanting some more advice on college life, check out these other posts! "College Advice from a Senior," 8 Tips for College Freshmen," "Is College Really like they Say it Is?," and "Time Management"
Until next time,