I was driving home in my car from leading a middle school Bible study. We were studying the story of Hannah in first Samuel and how she poured out her soul before God. The weather mirrored such a pouring when the Bible study let out, with rain streaming down. I dashed to my car to avoid the rain, yet still found myself splattered with delightful rain droplets. I sunk into my car seat and settled in for the 30-minute drive back home. The rain became a conversational companion on that ride home with its murmured patting against my car and windshield. As I neared home, the rain started to become more of what I would call “spittle.” “Spittle” is not quiet enough rain to be called a drizzle, yet more rain than mist. It is the sky spitting down at you-sometimes playfully, sometimes spitefully. Tonight was a combo.
I began my exodus from the highway via Exit 52A which wrapped the road in a sharp upward loop till you reached the main road. As I spiraled up the roundabout, I witnessed an incredible shifting of the world. A spectacular mural encircled me. It went from a gloomy rain cloud sky to a piercing blue-red-yellow sky. I was stunned, gently hushed by this display. It was a treasured and breathtaking moment. It was a perfect representation of my life. There was sorrow and pure joy mixed all together at once. The darkness was fully acknowledged and the light was too. There was beauty at every angle. However, the most beauty was found in witnessing the transition from the overcast to overawed.
Much like this gorgeous spread, my past four years in college have unfurled in dark and vibrant colors. Upon examining my time there, I have some words of wisdom for those stepping into this season of life. And maybe these words are for those of you out of college too. Some are longer thoughts than others, some will make sense to you and others won’t. Don’t think of it as a “to do” list, but rather my thoughts on how “to live abundantly” in college.
- Journal. I promise it will be worth it. If you aren’t a big journaler, find some way to keep track of God’s faithfulness and your prayers. Often, I found the answers to my prayers were written down long before I even began praying them. Only writing them down and returning to them months or even years later unlocked this revelation.
- Read. Firstly, read through the whole Bible during your time in college. Read the Bible every day! You actually have more time than you admit (your time spent on Facebook, Youtube, and Netflix can testify to this). So, why not read the Bible freshly all the way through? If you are like me, you may find you want to read it over again, and again, and again. Secondly, read other books. Read books about faith and books not about faith, books with a perspective you agree with and books contrary, books about things you don’t know and things you thought you already knew. Reading on your own will not only enhance your faith, it will also enhance your studies, inform your future major and career selection, and it will increase your ability to focus.
- Find a space. When I first got to college, I found that it was difficult to find a space to be alone. This may take some investigating, but consider it to be like a scavenger hunt. This space where you can be alone is so important because it is here that you can spend time with Jesus in privacy. Your abiding time with Jesus can be more expressive if you know that you are alone. I started singing worship in my quiet times with God during my third year of college simply because of this. I was reading my Bible alone in the house’s sunroom and a worship song just leaped off of my tongue. The solitude gave me the freedom to worship. This solitary space is also important because, at some point in your time at college, you will need to cry. Whether it is from loneliness, feeling overwhelmed, or difficult life-circumstances, you will want to cry by yourself and it is best to know where you can do that ahead of time.
- Grow roots. Get involved deeply in Christian community. Seek out people who are really pursuing the Lord. You will know they are Christians by their love, by the words they say (is it Biblically sound or not), by the fruit of their ministry, and by their joy. Once you find a community like that, go to everything they do! You will get the most out of a community if you go all in. My experience in Christian community at college has truly changed me. I have made friends there that I am certain will be lifelong and we will be worshiping together in the presence of Jesus when our times come.
- Be honest. Share your struggles and your failures. Don’t exaggerate. Confess your sins to your friends-they are probably striving with similar sins silently. This vulnerability is key in friendships and in becoming more like Christ. Being honest also means carefronting. “Carefronting” was a term used in my community that referred to confronting someone about a problem, but doing it out of love and with love. It really points to the truth in Proverbs 27:6 which says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” This past semester included a lot of interesting situations to navigate in regards to dating. I had to be honest when I didn’t think it was a good idea for people to be dating or to be getting engaged. I had to be honest when I thought things were going too far physically or too much time was isolating a couple from community. These were all hard conversations. And ultimately, I learned that I am not always right and that when I share my thoughts, those people can do whatever they want with my input. Honesty, with humility and love, can help draw a community together authentically.
- Be a Disciple. This has two angles. Jesus’s first disciples were both mentored and sent out. First, find someone who will disciple you. Sometimes a Christian fellowship or church will set this up for you. Other times, you have to be proactive in seeking someone out. Regardless, this is an exciting time in your life to learn from others who are older than you in the faith. Be teachable. Second, find someone who you can disciple. There is always someone in the faith who can learn from you. Knowing Jesus is what makes you qualified to disciple others. I have found that discipling others presses me more into community, scripture, and accountability. And, it is fun.
- Share daily. God is revealing himself to you daily, so share it with someone! This can be a fellow Christian, a friend or family member, or a stranger. You don’t have to be weird about it, but if Jesus is that important in your life, how can you not talk about him every day? I promise you, obedience leads to abundance. I have so many stories of God calling me to step outside my comfort zone to talk to strangers and those conversations turned into friendships. Besides, if you don’t share about Jesus in the beginning of a relationship, it is much harder to bring up your faith later.
- Do it here. Someone once was telling me about mission work and they emphasized that if you don’t do it here, you won’t do it there. The same goes for life during and life after college. Things that would fall under this category include tithing, spending time with Jesus, reaching out, serving, working out (yeah, still working on this one myself), etc. Life doesn’t get easier in the future, so why do we think we will change our lifestyle then. Do it here. Develop those habits while you are in college because a lot of those habits will be kept in your adulthood (good and bad).
- Don’t laminate. This was a running joke with my friend about how we tend to laminate our plans and then God comes and changes them. Don’t laminate your plans. Open your hands and let God. He knows best. Furthermore, don’t laminate your friendship group. I find that every semester I added friends to my circle, and some people I lost touch with. The ebb and flow of friendships is natural. Be open to investing in new relationships! I also think this is linked to a little something I call “friendship amnesia.” This is when someone forgets what it is like to be on the outside of a friend group once they are on the inside. They forget what it is like to be new and not have friends. So, reach out to those who are on the fringes. You will probably gain a great new friend!
- Don’t compare. Yeah, this is easier said than done, especially in a college environment where you are constantly surrounded by so many people in a tight space. It is easy to compare material things, appearances, grades, friendships, etc. This is especially tempting to do when it comes to dating. Singleness is great. So is dating. Stop comparing yourself. Like the saying goes, comparison is the thief of joy. One of my favorite passages in scripture on this is found in John 21, check it out! If you truly live a life without comparing yourself to others, it becomes easier to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. And you will be free and confident-these are such attractive qualities.
- Rest. My wise college mentor had me show her my hourly planner when we met up. She would ask me where the blank space was for me to rest…I rarely had that space. But that space is so important. Give yourself margin in your life to do something that is rest-orative. Find what truly nourishes your soul, not just filling your time with passive intakes of media. Personally, I found that writing, reading, painting, and being in nature was how I could really rest. Oh, and sleep, my dear friend. This is so important.
- Be selfless. In college, it is so easy to think that the world revolves around you. You make your schedule. You pick the food you want at the buffet line. You decide what to do with your time. I noticed a significant shift when I stopped making my time about me and more about God (and in turn, others). Be generous with your time. Be generous with your money. Be generous with your talents. One testimony of this is when I decided to say hello to the janitor in a library and tell her she was doing a great job. Over the years, we developed a great friendship. I brought her white chocolate before Christmas break and she always brought me great stories. We got to pray together and I learned all about her family and health problems. Sometimes I really felt like I didn’t have the time to stand and talk with her for 20 minutes, but the truth is, I always had enough time to do what I needed to do. After befriending this wonderful janitor, I started talking more sincerely with any person on staff with the university, from coffee baristas to sandwich makers to floor sweepers. I discovered that a little bit of love, attention, kindness, and patience went a long way. And what did it cost me? Nothing worth counting.
- Rock foundation. Build your life on Jesus who is your Rock. A lot of things will change-both while you are in college and when you transition out of college. God is the only unwavering constant component in your life. If you build your life on Him, you will stand firm.
- Finish strong. Yes, finish those classes and essays and tests strong. But more important, resolve to finish strong in community and in faith. It is so tempting to “check out” early in your last year of college. But, surprise, you have a lot of life ahead of you after college. Keep up the pace! Ultimately, finishing strong is about gratitude. In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus heals 10 lepers and only one returns to thank him. Too often, I fit into the category of those 9 who do not return with gratitude for the things God has done in my life. Likewise, too often I do not thank those that God has used to bless me in my walk of faith. To finish strong, return with gratitude.
So, let’s hop back into the car. (Congrats! You made it this far in this super long post!) We have spent quite a bit of time checking these rearview mirrors, looking at my time in college and just some of the lessons I have learned. Looking behind is critical to moving forward. Without those mirrors, we may find ourselves driving blind. We must use those mirrors, however, with the knowledge that there will always be objects that are closer than they appear and there will always be blind spots. But without them, we lose our placement in the world around us.
Now notice the size of those mirrors. Compared to the windshield, they are much smaller. A clear, unobstructed view ahead is what we need to move forward. It was the wide windshield that gave me the stunning view of a darkened rainy sky melting into a glorious sunset. It is the wide windshield that I am looking through now as I continue my journey beyond college. These thoughts may be more for me to do a little rearview checking than for you to inform your lifestyle. Regardless, I am so thankful for the roundabouts and rearviews.