When I started college, I never officially said to God, “Adios, I’ll see you again when I’m in my mid 20s,” but I should have, because that’s what I did. I essentially took a Jon vacation from God during my college years.
I put Him in a tiny box, labeled that box “Open when you’re married or after you have kids,” and put the box under the bed. Then I proceeded to live for me with an embarrassing amount of gusto.
You didn’t. Hopefully, upon reading those first few sentences your thought was, “What a loser. College was the period of my life when I grew close to God and learned about what it meant to be in a relationship with Christ.” That happens a lot and I honestly think that is awesome.
I didn’t have that experience though. My college years were a mess and although I can’t change them, I can tell you and my little sister Molly, who heads to the University of North Carolina this fall, why I wish I had not taken the college years off from God.
Here are the four things I’d tell every graduate:
1. God is not trying to ruin your college experience.
Man oh man did I throw God under the fun bus. I thought that if I pursued a relationship with God during college I would miss out on all the “fun college experiences” you’re supposed to have. Like drunken spring breaks, casual relationships, coming home with the sunrise parties etc. Wow, was I wrong. I realize now that God placed the deepest, most “light me on fire with fun and hope and life desires” within me and would have loved the opportunity to awaken those during college. He wants college, and every day after that for that matter, to be lived fully alive and is by no means trying to rain on your college parade. Like Missy Elliot, God can’t stand the rain, but unlike Missy Elliot He’s the one that created the sunrise and I promise that only He can show you the brightest ones in college.
2. Your parents’ faith won’t sustain you.
Neither will your high school youth minister’s or your friend’s or your pastor’s back home. If you inherited some beliefs from people around you while you were growing up, expect to go through a period of redefining them and personalizing them. For instance, if the only reason you went to church every Sunday was because that’s just what your family did, don’t expect that habit to carry you through college. You’ve got an amazing opportunity to understand your faith and your one on one relationship with God during these years, don’t miss it.
3. College is not forever.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but by completely disregarding my faith and my God during college, I was building a really horrible foundation for my mid 20s. Even now, 11 years after graduating from Samford University, there are things that my wife experienced in college with God that she can lean on. I don’t have those same things. And the damage I did to my heart and my mind during college made the first four years of marriage unnecessarily difficult. Sometimes during college you don’t like to think about consequences or you get sucked into this idea that college is all there is. But it’s not. Be kind to the 25 year old you and don’t gather the baggage I did.
4. Don’t have sex.
In addition to all the health risks, the pregnancy risks, the Biblical pleading against premarital sex, let me throw one more reason not to have sex that all the “wisdom for graduates” books seem to be leaving out: College sex is strictly amateur hour. Seriously, the ROI (Return on Investment) is bogus. You’ll give a part of you that is special and irreplaceable and beautiful and in return get something that is fumbling and awkward and shallow and selfish. Marriage sex, that has the benefit of a covenant relationship that allows people to be real and honest and adventurous, is better than college sex. I promise. Don’t believe me? Ask your parents. And then go throw up. But it’s still true.
There is very little chance I will ever be invited to give a high school graduation commencement speech at a Christian school, especially after point 4, but if I did, I would plead with the graduates not to take the college years off from God.
How about you?
What would you tell graduates this year?