Christian College

Christian College/University: An institution of higher education that seeks to integrate faith and learning while providing a Christian living environment that fosters spiritual growth.

An open letter to the high school student considering Christian college:

The first thing I want to tell you is this: it is not what you are expecting it to be.

I know about the glossy ads: campus lawns meticulously maintained so that they almost look like the “green pastures” of the 23rd Psalm, like you could lie down here and rest. A few feet away, unshaven college boys throw Frisbees lazily back and forth in the afternoon sun. I know.

Perhaps that four years of high school was a little unkind to you, and you are just looking for a place where you can belong. Or maybe you are filled to the top of your soul, high off all the leaving, looking forward, full of hope.

You are thinking “Christian College” and it looks like two thousand students lit like candles from the inside, glowing in the darkness. Instant friendship and up-all-night conversations over coffee and Krispy Kremes. It looks like safety. It seems like it would be so simple.

Here is the truth. Here is the paradox:

Where Christians gather there is love, wild and full of grace. And. Where Christians gather, there is pettiness. Gossip. Pain. Hate.

They are, after all, just people in the end. Young, like you, on their own for the first time. Making all their big mistakes, trying to figure out who they are. It will look like hypocrisy at times. It will make you double back. There will be a moment when it makes you rethink this whole Jesus thing.

At some point, the scripture-themed hall decorations will start to feel gaudy and cliché, the Bible you carry for class will begin to feel heavy against your back. There’s a good chance that someone will write a judgmental Bible verse on your whiteboard or use a spiritual phrase to insult you. This is part of it.

There will be pressure to find “the one” and envy and mockery if you do. The rules you agreed to when you sent in your paperwork will tighten around your neck; you’ll tire of all this theological discussion. (Premillenialism, predestination, a verse for everything, a test on Friday.)

This is what it means to grow up: to jump bravely into your imagined future and come down hard on the unyielding ground. You will find yourself a little broken, a little sad, a little lonely. And that’s just part of it.

The second thing I want to tell you is this: don’t give up.

You will feel yourself at a fork in the road at your Christian college: perform or disappear. Prove that your faith is strong, or despair. Choose neither of these. Choose stillness. Chose love.

Don’t be afraid of darkness. It will come, even in this place that promises Light. Question. Doubt. Discuss. Do not accept easy answers here or give into the party lines. Push toward the hard edges of your pain. Be as honest as you know how to be.

Eat cold pizza and stay out past curfew and venture downtown. Make friends from outside this place; find them at hole-in-the-wall coffee shops with live music. Listen to their stories. I mean really listen.

Find a few people from your hall or your English class that get you. Just a few. Don’t worry if it’s not your roommates, if you don’t like your roommates, if your roommates don’t like you.

Breathe deep breaths in the cold night air. Jump into the lake in the middle of winter. Feel your skin burst into flame as it touches the water. Know that God is here, and you, you are alive.

18 thoughts on “Christian College

  1. I love this so much. I went to Christian college and was greatly disillusioned my very first, “welcome” week, when I could not have felt more like an outsider. Grace seemed to be missing. Love was nowhere to be seen, not unless you were already broadcasting which clique you would follow.

    I began doing some of the things you mention above only in my final years there. It turned out to be a place foundationally necessary to my life and faith forevermore, and I’m so glad I rejected the false promises eventually.

    1. It’s such an interesting thing. I know that coming to Christian school from my public high school, I had this idea that it was going to automatically feel like I was among “my people.” It didn’t, and the pressure to perform was greater than I could ever have imagined.

      I’m like you…I figured out some things toward the end. But I wish I could go back and do some things differently early on.

  2. “Eat cold pizza and stay out past curfew and venture downtown. Make friends from outside this place; find them at hole-in-the-wall coffee shops with live music. Listen to their stories. I mean really listen.” … good advice, Addie! College is about living!

  3. Love it. Especially, (and again!), this part: “Eat cold pizza and stay out past curfew and venture downtown. Make friends from outside this place; find them at hole-in-the-wall coffee shops with live music. Listen to their stories. I mean really listen.”

    I regret not doing this more…thinking my mission trips to places that, you know, skipped the community right in front of my eyes, were adequate intersections with the “world outside”. I wish I sought out the good out there, instead of staying “safely” immersed in the small, Christian-college world.

    But, luckily, as it wasn’t all bad and had some really great things to offer, I was able to do as some of your other thoughts advocate for: I found good people who continue to be great sources of truth and love in my life.

    Anyway, how you wrote this–in the letter form, to the high school me and the high school Other, all with different experiences they are bringing to the table–has a certain quality of universal appeal to whoever is going into that experience of whoever has come out of it. It’s fantastic.

    1. Thank you, Becky. Such kind words. I was able, also, to find “good people who continue to be great sources of truth and love in my life.” Very grateful for this.

      I don’t regret going to Christian school, I just wish I had understood it better before I went. If I had had more realistic expectations of what it would be and had given myself the freedom to be who I was (instead of trying to measure up) I think I would have come out a little less cynical in the end.

      (I’m most thankful for a writing major heavy on the Buechner and Nouwen. I think that in the end, that’s what helped me to get to a healthy place.)

  4. “This is what it means to grow up: to jump bravely into your imagined future and come down hard on the unyielding ground. You will find yourself a little broken, a little sad, a little lonely. And that’s just part of it.

    The second thing I want to tell you is this: don’t give up.

    You will feel yourself at a fork in the road at your Christian college: perform or disappear. Prove that your faith is strong, or despair. Choose neither of these. Choose stillness. Chose love.”

    Reality and hope, held side by side. In the words of my Norwegian ancestors, “Uff da”… in a good way.

  5. I love where you went with this—it’s both realistic and encouraging.

    As someone who traipsed blindly from a public high school off to a Christian college (not even in my denomination, no less!), I really felt those fork-in-the-road moments as I struggled to find and define myself. I love that you’re saying there’s a third way, not just an either-or. So true.

    1. Thank you! I think at first I tried to perform a little, but when it became clear I couldn’t measure up, I went more toward the second way…disappearing. Going off-grid. I wish I had found the middle earlier and lived in that love and grace.

  6. I love this post and this blog. I shared this particular post with some friends who are struggling through their Christian College experience right now.

    “Perhaps that four years of high school was a little unkind to you, and you are just looking for a place where you can belong…You are thinking “Christian College” and it looks like two thousand students lit like candles from the inside, glowing in the darkness. Instant friendship and up-all-night conversations over coffee and Krispy Kremes. It looks like safety. It seems like it would be so simple.”

    This description fit me to a T. I thought Christian College (rather than Christ) was going to be my salvation. I ended up getting kicked out a few weeks into my second semester there, because “The rules you agreed to when you sent in your paperwork will tighten around your neck.” Although I didn’t spend near the amount of time there I thought I am grateful for the time I was there. It went on to become such a huge part of my life.

    Thanks for writing this!

  7. Wow! I have been reading your blog. I got slammed into the “Spiritual Journey: The Mad Season” post. It was shared with me late last week. Since then I have been sort of reading in order the whole entirety of your blog. So far, you’ve made me laugh, and you’ve made me cry, and I realize that I am not alone in my struggling.with my faith. After reading this post though, I now know where you went to college. Because I’m fairly certain we went the same place, as did my wife. I now know why we have similar faith struggles. Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much for this unbelievably generous comment, Mark. I’m so glad that you’ve discovered here that you’re not alone in the struggling. I think that’s one of the hardest parts of it — the loneliness. So, so glad you’re here. (Also will probably be emailing you to figure out if we did, indeed, go to the same college. Because I’m so curious now!)

  8. I just stumbled across your blog and read this entry. As someone who endured 4 years of Christian College (yes, endured is the word I chose to to use) I am grateful that someone articulated both the BROKEN parts of the experience and the BEAUTIFUL. When I graduated, I was bitter and angry that I had spent so much time in a place where I was so sheltered and hidden from the “world” that we were called to bring the gospel to. I remember telling people that I had the worst college years and complaining whenever someone brought up my alma mater. However, over the past few years it’s been healing to see just how many positive things came out of my time at christian college. I have the most incredible group of friends, I was protected from a lot that happens in the “typical college years” and the list goes on. The fact that I kept myself from associating with people that weren’t believers was MY fault. – not my schools. Anyway, sorry for the long comment…just want to say thanks for your honesty and willingness to highlight this topic!

    -Lauren
    laurenrebekah.com

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