What I Missed in College
I remember sitting in the student center on campus my freshman year of college. I had met an older woman for lunch. And by older woman, she was probably 24. But she was married and had her own condo and worked on staff for the campus ministry I attended. I remember being flattered by her offer to meet me, and then kind of confused when I realized that after our lunch she was meeting another student and another student. It wasn’t just that she liked me and wanted to be my friend.
Though she probably did both...like me and want to be my friend. What she wanted was to be an older, wiser friend. A friend who could act as a mentor and give me advice and help me navigate the mine field of the college social experience. I don’t know how many lunches this woman and I shared, but the relationship seemed like it died before it even started. She was offering me the chance to be discipled. But my young, naive and prideful self didn’t know what it was, and didn’t understand the value of what she was offering. Time. Support. Encouragement. A listening ear. A wise guide.
I grew up going to church, but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I became aware of the relevance of personal faith and a relationship-with-Jesus life. I was still a newbie. I was still learning my way around the Bible, and hearing phrases like “quiet time” and “discipleship” without really knowing what they meant. My pride kept me quiet. I didn’t want people to know that I was new to this faith thing. I didn’t want people to know that I didn’t have it all together. I didn’t want people to know that I had questions. I didn’t know how to hold doubt AND faith, or insecurity AND confidence. I didn’t know how to seek with humility. I didn’t know who I could trust, so I missed it. I missed what I was being offered in those lunches at the student center.
It was probably 10 years after those freshman lunches that I began to long for a mentor. I felt inadequate and unprepared. I felt like everyone knew more than me, except that now I was 10 years down the road. My pretending I had it all together had not served me. I acted mature. I played along like I knew my bible and had mastered the spiritual disciplines, but the truth was I hadn’t ever submitted myself underneath someone’s spiritual mentorship. I had listened to sermons, read books, taken classes, but not invited an older, wiser spiritual friend into my life. Someone who I would allow to teach me, question me and help me grow. Discipleship. It was what I began to long for, and realized it was what had been offered to me all those years ago.
I wish I would have known. I wish I would have known that this was a thing. I wish someone would have told me that it would be somewhat uncomfortable, but good for me in the best way. I wish I would have had the humility to drop the act, disregard my pride and ask the questions. Would I have learned how to listen to God in prayer sooner? Would I have learned how to really read and study my Bible in a way I could understand and apply? Would I have adopted the practice of scripture memorization earlier? Would my faith have been richer and more transparent to the watching world had I done the work when it was offered?
This oversight has been fresh as we have recently sent our oldest son off to college. We had so many conversations about how his faith would be tested on campus, and we encouraged him to find a campus ministry to attend. "That’s where you’ll find your friends,” we said. "That’s where you’ll meet nice girls." But we didn’t think to prepare him for discipleship. We didn’t think to encourage him to seek it out, find someone he could learn from, lean on and trust. Find someone who would help him walk into faith in a deeper, richer way. College years are by no means the only time for discipleship to take place, but in my experience I think this time of life might be one of the best. Everything is new, everyone is coming into their own identity, and life is on the line. Decisions are critical and resources are abundant. But despite our lack of mentioning discipleship, his own need, loneliness and lack of connection, and a heart that was already bent towards God, caused him to seek it out. Not right away, but slowly realizing THIS is the time. These are the days. With so many opportunities in college, discipleship is the one I missed. My son however, voluntarily pursed spending his first college summer in a 9 week discipleship program out of state. Even though we hadn’t talked about discipleship, God was faithful and led him this direction. Ethan knew in his quest for identity, purpose, and healthy relationships that diving deeper with God would be what he needed. He knew he needed to spend his summer in this way.
I’m reminded that God’s got this. God’s got me and my son and my family, all in the palm of His hand. God is directing our circumstances and our steps to ultimately invite us closer into relationship with Him. So even if you too feel like you’ve missed something along the way, it’s not too late. I honestly wasn’t mature enough or ready to be discipled in college. I wish I was. But though missing discipleship in college may leave me feeling a little sad, I'm also so encouraged because God has continually walked alongside me. He has continually prepared me for what’s next and given me opportunities to grow as I was ready. And I know he’ll do the same for you!
"You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past. With your hand of love upon my life, you impart a blessing to me.” Psalm 139:5 (TPT)