I'm not the first person to say this, and I certainly won’t be the last: College is hard. Like, really hard. Day to day, college students are challenged academically, emotionally, physically, psychologically and, perhaps most of all, spiritually. Sometimes keeping your faith through the trials that college can bring is the hardest thing you can do. I know, because not long ago, I was there.
I did not grow up in the Church. In fact, I started attending regularly during my freshman year of college. I began to see God’s calling in my life while attending a UYC summer camp as a teen. By the time I was 18 and moving out of my parents’ house, I was ready to commit to the Church and attend on my own.
Boy, was I in for a challenge!
The struggles are real
Collegians have a whole host of problems ready to plague them. Often, college is their first experience being away from home, keeping their own schedule or having a real job. But time management and school-life balance are not the only things that can be difficult to learn. Students can also be haunted with worries about money or student loans, making friends and fitting in, experiences with peer pressure and temptation to sin and the ever-present question of whether the decisions they make today will negatively affect their future. All of these struggles are real and can lead to intense feelings of stress, anxiety, burnout, depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, escapism, weight gain or loss and, in extreme cases, addiction, self-harm or getting into dangerous situations. I’ve seen all of these things firsthand and experienced some of them myself. Keeping faith through these tough times can be so, so hard.
But it is possible.
What you should realize about college is that it, like most of life, offers up an endless array of choices, some right and some wrong. It can be the place where your greatest triumphs and your greatest mistakes happen. Keeping your faith in God means that you actively choose to live according to His ways even when faced with new and difficult trials. Pursuing Him will remind you that even if you make wrong decisions, He will still be there with you, blessing you and keeping you.
How to build and keep your faith in college
Growing up in God’s Church (or being called into it) means you’ve probably heard the phrase “prayer, study and meditation build faith.” It may sound cliché, but that’s because it actually works! You might think: Sure, I know I need to do that. But I have 18 hours of class every week, a pile of homework so big I could drown in it, a club meeting every Thursday at 6 p.m. and a frat party to get to this Saturday night. How can I find time to pray, study or meditate?
These things will come naturally when you make keeping your relationship with God a priority. When God is at the top of your list, prayer becomes easier, study becomes invigorating and meditating on the truth becomes second nature.
Consider these easy ways of working prayer, study and meditation into your schedule:
- Reserve 15 minutes before bed each night to pray earnestly about whatever is on your mind.
- Download an app to send you daily scriptures. Read and think about how each scripture applies to your life every morning during breakfast or on your way to class.
- Say a silent prayer of gratitude whenever something good happens during your day.
- On breaks between classes, take a few minutes to sit alone in a nice part of campus and take in the beauty of God’s creation.
- On days you don’t have class, plan to spend one hour in a coffee shop reading over your notes from the sermon you heard last Sabbath. Remember what was said and solidify the message for yourself.
- Contact someone from your congregation and get together for lunch or dinner. Use this time to tackle some spiritual questions you’ve had in your mind, gaining that person’s help and input.
Remember to consistently repent and turn to God
When I was in college, I made a slew of mistakes. I didn’t always make following God a priority, and I had to ask for forgiveness. If you know in the back of your mind that something isn’t quite right and you do it anyway, that means you need to ask God for forgiveness. But more than that, it also means you must try to do better next time. You can do this both before and (especially!) after being baptized.
Remember David, who made a number of mistakes in his life, but kept his focus on God and was considered a man after God’s own heart. He earnestly repented and turned toward God after he sinned and was richly blessed because of it. There are a lot of temptations to sin in college, whether by breaking the Sabbath to attend a sporting event, getting drunk at a party or having sex before marriage. It is vital to repent of sins, no matter what they are, and to seek to live according to God’s ways. If you are faithfully trying to follow God, there is no mistake you can make that God cannot forgive.
Have a trusted friend or role model of like mind
I wish that I’d had a friend or role model in the Church whom I could have turned to when I needed help in college. My congregation was small, and I was the youngest member, besides a few children. I began to feel alone at services each week, and it became easier to turn to friends at school for support and wisdom. While I did make very good friends in college, it just wasn’t the same.
I realize now that I should have done two things to improve my Church friendships: try harder to communicate with long distance friends that I had already made and be more willing to open up to someone older in my own congregation. There I was, surrounded by Facebook, Skype and FaceTime, yet I hardly used those resources to stay in touch with friends who may have been struggling in the same way I was. I also never considered that Church members who were parents or grandparents could have had similar experiences to my own, or that they might be able to help me get through my own struggles. Being honest with people in the Church about what you’re going through spiritually can be very helpful. It is so important to have strong ties with like-minded friends, so that we can “exhort one another daily,” as we’re told in Hebrews 3:13 Hebrews 3:13But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
American King James Version×. Those connections can make all the difference in your spiritual life.
College was definitely the most intense four years of my life. The things that happened there led me to the realization that I cannot live without God’s help. I later made the choice to repent fully and receive His Holy Spirit through baptism. And life has become so, so good.
But that’s not to say it is without trials! Difficult times will come all throughout your life. Use these times to establish the habits that will help you draw closer to God, even when you’re being tested. Make the choice in college to follow God and trust in His plan for you. There are immense blessings in store for you.
Romans 8:28 Romans 8:28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
American King James Version×says that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” And guess what? That includes you!