This article is part of Rooted’s 2019 student series, where young Christians share their experiences of faith in high school and college.
Joe Rogan, a comedian and podcast host, does not like to perform on college campuses. He said on his podcast that he wants to do his routine and “talk” to people who have lived some life: gotten a job, lost a job, been in relationships, gone through hard times. He does not think there is anything wrong with being 18 or 21, but he prefers telling jokes to people he feels will be able to relate to them in a way those in college cannot.
Rogan is largely correct when he says that kids in college have not experienced much life. Christians in college are no different. Like me, many young Christians go off to school having attended church their whole lives while growing up with a faith in God, but not having many life experiences to shape or challenge their beliefs.
College tests that faith. The challenges are different for every young Christian. And whenever anybody—whether we are in college or not—starts to go through some sort of difficulty, we look for something to make us feel better. We all want assurances that our circumstances will turn out alright, and we place our hope in whatever provides us with comfort in the midst of our trials. For Christians, though we ought to run to Jesus and His saving grace during these hard times, we often turn to worldly things that provide us with a feeling of relief.
During the winter semester of my freshman year in college, I went through the common challenge of pledgeship. I am in the fraternity now and I largely look back at that time as an experience that did what it was supposed to do: bring me closer to the guys I was pledging with. However, it was hard at times, and in the first weeks I searched for something to make me feel better. I found it in talking to a girl who lived a few dorms down from me in our residence hall. She liked to do her homework in the laundry room on our hall, and I would plop down in a chair across from her and we would have a conversation. It was a nice bookend to the day.
The weeks went on and pledgeship got harder. Lines became blurred and this girl went from a friend to a more intimate figure in my life. I began to lean on her emotionally more than I realized at the time. We would talk into the early morning and then fall asleep in her bed (always hers because my roommate and pledge brother was doing the same thing with his now-girlfriend in our room). Although we were not having sex, the talking and hooking up felt like a release to me, something that made me feel better about whatever had happened that day.
There is something important to note about hooking up. While the practice is common in college, the whole experience is more nuanced than people view it. Although everybody from your brother to your mother has a different definition of what the term entails, the motivations behind wanting to hook up with somebody stem from a deeper desire than just physical gratification. Yes, people want that gratification, but I think there is an underlying need to be recognized by someone else and to feel like there is someone who cares about you.
Along with physical closeness, we want emotional closeness and a feeling we matter. That great poet of our generation, Ed Sheeran, expresses this sentiment well in his song “I Don’t Care:” “’Cause I don’t care when I’m with my baby, yeah / All the bad things disappear/ And you’re making me feel like maybe I am somebody/ I can deal with the bad nights/ When I’m with my baby, yeah.”
An essential part of the Gospel is that to Jesus, we are much more just “somebody,” especially during the “bad nights.” With Him, there is never any doubt of His love for us. In 1 Peter, we are called to cast all of our anxiety onto Him “because He cares for us.” He is the ultimate refuge to turn to in times of trouble (1 Peter 5:7).
Peter goes on to offer a warning: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) What I was doing was the opposite of this. When trouble came, I gave into my desires and frustrations and looked for something other than God to get me through my situation. While the choice was not a conscious one, where I thought, “oh, God is not good enough for me in this moment,” we do this subconsciously all the time. That is the craftiness of the devil to get us to turn away from God.
However, all things God does work together for good. He knows all of our struggles before we go through them. He eventually got me through pledgeship, and He got me through the messy situation that was the fallout from the conversation where I told this same girl that I didn’t want to date her.
Both pledgeship and our intimate relationship—if you can call it that—ended around the same time. I remember thinking about life after I would be initiated into the fraternity and return to normalcy. Dating this girl I had become so close with did not seem to fit into that image. I prayed about it, mostly because I knew I was dreading the inevitable conversation and realizing that I had used her. That I had done so unconsciously did not make it any better. But praying, as it often does, helped. God gives us reassurances that even when we fail time and time again, He is there to continue to forgive us and love us. This truth might not make these situations any easier, but but we can rest rooted in the knowledge He has a plan for us.
There is a verse that I have known since I was a child (it is printed on the pamphlets in the pews at my church), but understand in a more meaningful way after going through this experience. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We often forget about the rest that God offers us until we feel like we are desperate for it, but the truth of the Gospel is that no matter where we are or what trouble we have, God is there, waiting for us to trust in Him.