Five Sure Steps for Survival in College: An Open Letter to the Ladies of the Class of 2020
by Virginia Forste
Ladies of the Class of 2020,
There are few things more terrifying and exhilarating than a new beginning. If you are heading off to college this fall, there will be fresh air, less parental monitoring, the hustle of crossing campus in under ten minutes to get to your next class, favorite professors, and many papers. There may be a late night or two at the campus library because, believe or not, there are still books that you cannot check out (Is this 1970?). And the advice . . . you will get SO much advice. Has anyone told you to “Follow your heart” yet? That’s terrible advice, considering “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV).
I would offer just the opposite advice: Guard your heart! The wisest king who ever lived, Solomon, challenges us in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (NIV). If you haven’t thought about this before now, it’s time to prepare for what’s ahead of you.
An Unwise Exchange
I accepted Christ at summer camp and had immense trouble keeping my twelve-year-old-self buoyed with no spiritual community after I returned home. I was not firmly rooted in my faith in God when I set off for college. As expected, I did not follow Christ closely when I arrived. I wholeheartedly embraced the lack of parental supervision. (Do you know what eating Chick-fil-A does to a body when eaten twice a day for a week? It’s not pretty.) Romans 1:22, 23 says, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images [worthless idols] made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles” (NIV). Although I wasn’t sitting in the quad whittling tiny wood carvings of forest animals, I did place the opinions of others above God’s opinion of me—and that made them idols in my life.
Ephesians 3:14-19 tells us that if we are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to be strong, to stand on solid ground, and truly understand the greatness of God’s love for us. This rootedness enables us to make and stick with our decisions that align with God’s standards. Every solid Christ follower I know incorporates certain rituals into their everyday life. I’d like to share five steps that I think will really help you navigate this important phase of your life.
- Put God First
We read in Ephesians 6: “Finally, just relax. Pick up your Bible once a week while at church. Pray to God only when you are about to take an important test or go on a date. Feel guilty about not doing enough for God. Occasionally remember him here or there. You’ll be fine when temptation comes; it won’t be hard to resist.”
Wait, what?!? No, those aren’t the verses. I think we don’t fully commit to making these habits part of our lives because we don’t really believe they are effective. Believe me when I say this because I have spent too much time in unbelief.
Ephesians 6:10, 11 actually says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his great power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can fight against the devil’s evil tricks” (NCV).
If you’ve been a Christ follower for a while, maybe you need to pray this prayer from Psalm 51:12 every morning when you wake up: “Give me back the joy of my salvation. Keep me strong by giving me a willing spirit” (NCV). That prayer is absolutely in line with God’s will and he will grant it. Remember how far you’ve come in your faith and praise him for holding you close.
- Make Intentional Connections
Find a classmate whom you admire and ask her to coffee. See if a Christian woman will meet with you once a month. She doesn’t have to be chronologically older, but she should be more mature in her faith. Check out the campus ministries or local church in the town where you are living. Ask for recommendations from your youth leaders and friends who live in the area. And, be sure to stay connected with Christ’s Church by worshiping with us online.
- Write Your Story
Author Sheila Walsh once heard a speaker say, “God has no grandchildren. He has sons and daughters.” There’s no legacy program in Heaven. Find your own faith. It’s important to be able to identify the milestones of your relationship with the Lord. Think of yourself as an advertisement with a “before” and an “after” photo recognizing that the change agent was the precious blood of Jesus. If you grew up with thriving Christian parents, at what point did you personally take on Christ as your own Lord and Savior? It can be a literal moment of an immediate 180-degree turn to Christ, or it can be a series of small adjustments.
Jesus tells us in John 5:24, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life” (NLT).
- Develop Your Passions
What do you like to do? How can you use those talents that you have to glorify God? Maybe it’s chatting with a core group of women. Maybe it’s watercolor painting or pottery or jewelry or music. Find that thing that draws you closer to Jesus and lean into the gifts he gave you. Go for a walk. Listen to a Christian podcast. Read a book on apologetics. Allow these to enhance, not replace, your Bible reading.
Did you know that the worship team at Christ’s Church has a Spotify playlist? I encourage you to sing along with the worship tunes each Sunday whether you are worshiping in person or online. And, as you do, notice how God draws you closer to him and as you draw closer to him, he will develop your talents even more.
- Purge Bad Habits
Which habit do you need to let go of? What habit can you add? Not sure of those? Ask God. The Lord will give you wisdom when you ask (see James 1:5). He is faithful to answer that prayer every time!
In Proverbs 25:28 we find this wise counsel: “Those who do not control themselves are like a city whose walls are broken down” (NCV). It’s time to strengthen our spiritual walls. It’s a lot easier to put up a metal gate and Ring security cameras around your house than fight a thief who’s already broken in. Instead, let us listen and obey what the Lord says, as he advises in Luke 6:48, “That person is like a man building a house who dug deep and laid the foundation on rock. When the floods came, the water tried to wash the house away, but it could not shake it, because the house was built well” (NCV).
Ladies, when you find yourself about to take the plunge “into the unknown” (yes, I’ve seen Frozen 2), remember your Father God goes before you. He will protect and guide you. And please know that your church family is here, ready to support you as well.
As you launch into this school year, please know we are praying for and cheering for you. God’s got this under control. Choose faith over fear every day.
Virginia Forste is a former elementary education teacher and stay-at-home mom who frequently blogs with other moms at textingthetruth.com.