When I started my freshman year at Ole Miss, I was thrown headfirst into a strange world of frat parties, weekly football tailgates, and freedom. So. Much. Freedom. What do you mean I can eat pizza at 2:00am? Wait, I can watch TV instead of doing homework, and no one is going to yell at me? But the changes and resulting challenges I faced went far beyond that.
Attending a state school as an out-of-state student, I felt like every one of the thousands of other students in my class already knew each other, and I had somehow missed the boat on those friendships. Cue the homesickness and loneliness. But through that pain, Jesus did as Jesus does, and he managed to redeem it and draw me closer to him.
Prior to starting college, I confined my relationship with Jesus to Sunday mornings and youth group trips. I lived with loving parents in a nice neighborhood with a good high school, so life growing up was relatively smooth sailing, and I rarely saw my day-to-day need for Jesus. I would call on him if I found myself in a real pickle, but beyond that, I left him on the shelf until I needed him the next Sunday. That mentality went out the window freshman year when everything I found comfort or identity in was stripped away.
At that point, I had two options: wallow in self-pity and loneliness, or lean on God for his comfort and provision. The former was often easier than the latter, but by God’s grace, I wasn’t left in that pit.
It was at this point in my life that I learned (the hard way) what it means to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” I became an Israelite wandering in the wilderness—including the not-so-flattering characteristics like grumbling and forgetting God’s faithfulness—seeking “a pillar of cloud” to guide me and manna to sustain me: a friend to eat lunch with, something to do on a Friday night, or a fun date to a sorority function. And much like the manna in the wilderness, several of God’s gifts were meant only for that day. I can think of friendships that lasted just a week or a month, but that was all they were intended for. Just a moment in time to get me through. If I ever looked beyond the day at hand, the anxiety and doubt kicked in, and a quick phone call to Mom and Dad reminded me that my prayer is, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and not, “Give us next week.”
By God’s grace, I survived my freshman wilderness, and God faithfully led me into the promised land of sweet, lifelong friendships. They are absolutely a gift from God and not the result of my own efforts in any way. And because of that, their presence in my life is that much more appreciated and cherished, knowing that God chose them for me and me for them for reasons we probably won’t know this side of heaven.
As 20/20 hindsight usually goes, I would not trade my freshman year for anything, nor would I wish it on my worst enemy. That year, God made my heart and eyes so acutely aware of his plans and blessings in my life, allowing me to rejoice in my heavenly Father and feel his presence in new powerful ways. Unfortunately, because I am human, I must repeatedly relearn these lessons, and when I do, I am reminded of the mighty, loving God we serve, who takes care of his children and carries them through the wilderness.