College at a small, residential school in the South is an experience that can live up to all the hype: days filled with your friends, studying subjects you are passionate about, new friendships, figuring out who you are and who you want to be. It can also be filled with hard seasons that don’t make it on the promo card.
As wonderful as the college experience can be, it also can be filled with unexpected hardship. Some days are marked by loneliness and despair. Ouachita seeks to be a campus that cares about the whole person, which includes helping students prepare for the hard days that come in life.
“Everyone has bad days,” said one of our campus ministry leaders in a brainstorm meeting. This simple statement struck me because I knew this student was not exempt from the hardship of life. Our meeting had gone off on one of those rabbit trail conversations that you could sense was leading to something meaningful. We were working on curriculum for our Life Groups for the fall semester on the topic of wisdom found in Scripture. We were discussing how often, in Christian cultures, if someone is experiencing hardship, they feel like they have done something wrong. But instead, we should acknowledge that we live in a world filled with bad days. God is not unaware of our suffering.
In the book Fabric of Faithfulness, Steven Garber argued that those who kept the faith years after college experienced some common elements during their college years. One element is that these students encountered believers who had a worldview big enough for the challenges and suffering of our current world. They didn’t shy away from hard realities with cliché answers but instead allowed God to be God in a broken world. Garber also highlighted that it was important for the friends they made in college to encompass that worldview and strengthen one another through suffering. In other words, they were surrounded by a community of people who were not perfect at following God, yet who were allowing their life to be filled with truth and the hope that comes through Christ.
One part of growth in college comes with the theology of God’s big story, a story that offers us a meaningful life that is filled with God as the author and main character.
In a chapel address to students last year, I reflected:
Don’t underestimate the difficulty you may face after college. You put into action what you are preparing for now. You decide important things – about calling and career, future relationships, where you want to live, how you want to spend your free time – not to mention all the unexpected things that will come your way.
On the other hand, don’t underestimate the incredible power of God, the author of your story, a story that is part of a larger narrative. This story is centered on God who is worthy of our worship. Proverbs 16:9 was a key verse for me throughout a season full of unknowns: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.”
We pray that your years as a Ouachita student are filled with the power of Jesus, who cares about your pain and knows your suffering. Our prayer in Campus Ministries is that Ouachita will be a place where you find a community that embraces a life full of the hope we find in Christ.
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