Tuesday, August 12, 2014

dear Christian college peoples

I'm going to share with you one great tip about thriving in college: Don't do what I did.

Seriously. I did about one-hundred-and-fifty-three things in college that were downright ignorant, and I didn't even have the excuse of alcohol in my system on which to blame any of those stupid decisions.

I won't spend this entire post rehashing the past with an itemized list of the 153 dumb things I did. Instead, I will generalize my ridiculousness into four broad categories and pray that you don't do these things.

How to be an idiot in college:

1. Focus entirely on your grades and accolades. I was born with this perfectionistic persona that, when given the power upon which it thrives, has the ability to ruin my life without my even knowing it. (Procrastination is the daughter of perfection, by the way, because in order to be perfect you must first formulate your ideas and plans for an absolute eternity before even beginning to work on anything. This kind of takes you out of the dating game--let alone any other game--for a while.)

For me, perfectionism meant that college was a very stressful time. It's tough being "perfect" (read: trying to be perfect), especially when you realize that no one really cares that you aced every single test in your sociology class or that you jumped high in a track meet. (I mean, your parents probably care, but they also probably want you to live a life of influence more.)

Perfectionism also meant I spent a lot of time studying and practicing. This, in turn, meant I didn't spend a lot of time building relationships with others, particularly with people I now realize God put in my life for that very reason. Sure, I spent a lot of time with athletes because I really had no choice (and I did enjoy those people...M-I-Z!!), but I didn't spend a lot of personal time trying to build relationships with those people. I was too busy trying to earn good grades, make high jumps, and find approval.

In short, I spent a lot of time on ME. Trying to make ME better. Working on MY grades. I didn't realize it at the time, but trying to be the best was the most selfish thing I could have done, even though I felt I was doing my best for the right reasons ("Using God's gifts to glorify Him" but not caring enough about others to let them in on that secret.) While I was all about working hard, I lacked the level of self-sacrifice required to truly impact someone else's life for Christ in a time when I had the greatest opportunities to do so.

2. Stay in on the weekends. Now, to be fair, my reasons for not getting out into the social atmosphere often were legit. I was usually traveling with the track team, and we began attending meets in December or January, thus taking me out of the weekend party scene often. But when I was able to stay around school for a weekend, I made it a point to be as lame as possible. Seriously.

Ok, I didn't try to be lame but I dabbled in lameness for quite a while there. I had a pretty serious dilemma on my hands regarding alcohol, so instead of facing it head-on I decided to avoid it, thus acting like it didn't exist.

On one hand, I had the belief that alcohol wasn't all that bad in moderation. (But what was moderation, and what if I had an addictive personality? Note: I do have an addictive personality: Chocolate, scarves, ice cream, furniture...) However, on the other hand, I had this bad feeling that if I went to a party where beer was in excess I would be "guilty by association," thus ruining my witness to others. In truth, I didn't have much of a witness because of point #1, above: I was self-absorbed.

And then there's this, which is kind of sad for me to report, but I feel that it's necessary for full disclosure of my lameness: I had this great idea that I would not drink a lick of alcohol until my 100th birthday, which I asserted made me a "rebel."  I know. So sad. So sad, in fact, that even my mother realized it was pathetic and tried to get me to drink a fruity beverage when we were vacationing in Mexico. I declined, of course, because I had my ideals to which I had to be a slave. (My mother is not a drinker, by the way, lest I get her in any sort of trouble.)

This isn't to say that I didn't go to any parties. I did, but I tried to avoid them like the plague. At the very least, my avoidance of parties made me lame. For sure, though, my lack of effort in the social scene made it appear as though I thought was "holier than though," even while struggling with feelings of immense inadequacy. What a mistake. I missed tons and tons of opportunities to build relationships and point others to Christ while being vulnerable, and I am often haunted by the opportunities I had but never took advantage of.

3. Date someone your freshman year for a few months, then continually allow that person to string you along on a sad little leash for four years. Oh, and pretend to be friends the entire time he's dragging you along. Oh, and try to over-spiritualize decisions as often as possible. "I feel like God is telling me that we need to spend more time outside." "I think God's plan involves us taking a weekend to think about our relationship and any areas of improvement that might need to be made." "My niece loves you; she must be able to see Christ's love in you."

Blah.

This is a great way to be thoroughly confused for four years, to go on dates with egotistical drummers who are not your type at all, to have guys in the "friend-zone" who are thoroughly confused about why you aren't dating, and to take yourself out of any other sort of dating potential that could have ever existed. (Clearly, this all turned out okay, because I got to marry Bradlee a few years after college, but what a waste of time, energy and brain cells.)

Do not do this. Trust me.

4. Learn how to study everything but your Bible. Possibly the worst possible thing I could have done in college. I read my Bible in college. I read a lot of books about the Bible in college. I went to FCA and AIA and Bible study groups, and I led Christian camps for teens several times.

However, I didn't have a clue about how to actually study the Bible. (Meanwhile, I was studying my tail off to earn good grades in subjects I would never again use in my life. Good call, Jenny.)

My lack of knowledge and experience in studying the Bible after graduating from college was absolutely embarrassing, thus making my prayer life flat and my focus obscure. I'm not going to tell you that I always opened my Bible at night to random books, read a few lines at a time, and then stopped a few chapters in due to utter confusion, but it might have happened a few times.

Most people know just enough about the Bible to be absolutely dangerous. They know that Jesus turned water to wine, so they use that as an excuse for drinking a bit too much rum on Saturday night. However, they forget the part in the Bible that says "do not be drunk with wine." However, other Christians use verses to claim that the above verse means alcohol if off limits entirely while ignoring other parts of the Bible. And then others use 1 Peter 5:8 ("be sober-minded") out of context, relating it to alcohol, when it really refers to keeping a stable and watchful mind and attitude of faith.

People tend to see what they want to see in the Bible, and without careful study and prayers for wisdom and discernment, we tend to interpret its words the way we want to interpret them. When we don't fully understand--or work toward full understanding of--the Bible, the Enemy uses half-truths to destroy us.

I can't help but wonder how much my college life would have been different if I would have understood the skill of studying the actual Bible (or at least BEGUN to hone the skills necessary to study it, as I am still learning so much about this).

I probably would have learned that life is about pointing others to Christ, not living a perfect life.
I probably would have learned to pray for wisdom and discernment on the alcohol issue (which would have made me more effective in sharing Christ).
I probably would have learned to make decisions by picking something and going by faith instead of wavering forever in dating relationships.

I probably would have made a bigger impact on people around me, instead of trying to impact my transcripts, my claims to fame, and my dreams.

College people. You have great opportunities ahead of you. Do not squander the time, talents, and Truth you've been given.