How to Stay Christian in College
- Thursday, August 20, 2009
The important thing is to seek and build new interests and attachments in a careful, discerning way. You don't need to panic. College is full of social opportunities, and most students are more ready to form friendships than at any other time in their lives. This book devotes a whole chapter, and parts of several others, to campus social life.
If you were a typical teenager, you probably grumbled for years about the rules and limits your parents made you obey. Well, no one makes you obey them in college. Once upon a time, colleges and universities regarded themselves as standing in loco parentis, "in the place of the parents." Except at a few Christian colleges, that notion hasn't been taken seriously for years. Unless you cheat, commit a crime, or disrupt the campus, your school is unlikely to know—or even care—how you live. No one will tell you not to stay up so late. No one will wake you in the morning if you oversleep. No one will tell you when to come home from a date. No one will make you go to church. No one will remind you to do your homework, wash your underwear, or stay away from sex and drugs. In these ways, you are forced to take responsibility for your own behavior.
Being thrust all at once into the responsibilities of adulthood can come as a shock. Some of my students visit me to seek advice about life after college graduation. Many have made poor grades right up until their senior year. I ask them why. "When I got to the university I went wild," says one. "For my first three years here I just partied," says another. "Do you think that will hurt my chances of getting into law school?" You can guess how I have to answer.
People invent all sorts of ways to adapt to the sudden pressure of adult responsibility. Some ways help; others don't. When I started college, one of the guys in the dorm told me that he'd found the perfect way to motivate himself to study. He kept an enormous jug of a cheap fruit-flavored wine on his desk, and for each page of homework he read, he rewarded himself with a swallow. As you might guess, he was always a little drunk. He got his reading done, but whether he remembered what he'd read was another question. I don't remember seeing him take notes either. Maybe he couldn't hold the pencil!
College sends students mixed messages. Although in some ways it treats them as grown-ups, in other ways it treats them as babies. You don't have to prepare your own meals, because you can eat in the cafeteria. You don't have to find your own doctor, because you can go to the student health clinic. You don't have to come up with your own entertainment, because music, movies, and other amusements are provided on most campuses. At some colleges, the dorms even provide clean sheets (though you still have to put them on the bed yourself). All sorts of things are done for you at college that you're perfectly capable of doing for yourself. The arrangement has some advantages, but it hardly encourages you to remember that you're grown-up.
Of course you really are grown-up in one sense (you have full adult responsibilities) even though you really aren't grown-up in another (you haven't finished developing). What kind of person are you going to become? I'm not talking about the courses you want to take or the kind of job you want to get someday; I'm talking about the qualities you want to have. Do you desire to be wise, fair, and honest—or foolish, unfair, and crooked? Kind, loyal, and reliable—or mean, backstabbing, and unreliable? Brave, faithful, and pure—or cowardly, weak, and stained? Maybe you've thought about the kind of person you want to become but not about how to become that person. Every act, every decision, every thought will move you either a little closer to being that kind of person—or push you a little further away.
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