Olivia Dear Thames
To the new college freshman . . .
Life probably feels bittersweet as you fly the nest—you’re leaving your family, your home, your friends, and your familiarity in place of new faces, new places, and newfound freedom.
Maybe you’re experiencing joy. Maybe you’re experiencing a little heartache. Or if you’re like I was, you’re experiencing a sense of unease.
Do people seriously walk to class without passing out? What if the computers glitch and I don’t get a bid? What if the computers don’t glitch but I still don’t get a bid? What if my boyfriend Grant finds out there are more fish in the sea? If that happens, what if I never learn how to swing dance? And then I’ll never get asked to a date party. What if I fail chemistry? (Honestly, this was a reasonable fear.) What if everyone thinks my dorm isn’t cute because my mom made me use my sister’s chevron-patterned lamps?
The season of starting college is exciting and strange and fun and unique and new and maybe a little scary. And while there is a lot of great advice out there such as to stop going worst case scenario (oops, as referenced above), to not drop to 12 credit hours first semester because it’ll be hard to graduate on time (also oops), and to not spend all your money for the semester in the first two months (again…oops), there’s one thing you should know most before stepping a toe on campus:
Following Jesus in college is worth it.
It’s worth it to be confident that Someone does hear your prayers when you walk in on the first day of college algebra and realize it's going to be a long semester (1 Peter 5:7).
It’s worth it to take the time and the effort to find Christian community . . . to have friends around you that point you to Jesus (John 15:12–13).
It’s worth it to know that there IS hope when the Union is suddenly out of Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits and the only other option is Panda Express for breakfast (Psalm 62:5–6).
It’s worth it to step outside of your comfort zone and get involved in a campus ministry (Hebrews 10:24–25). There are so many people there that want to pour into you.
It’s worth it to know that the Lord’s plan for your life is better than your own (Proverbs 16:9). The fact that He led me to drop the chemistry class that was slaughtering me at the beginning of freshman year is proof of this.
It’s worth it to wake up a little early on Sundays to head to church (Psalm 95:2). You’ll need this time of worship (we all need this time of worship). And there is nothing like being involved in a local church during college.
It's worth it to know your identity is not wrapped up in your grades (Exodus 20:3). I put way too much focus on this during my four years. And I was definitely not planning on being a doctor, or doing graduate school of any kind, so this infatuation with my GPA was based more on others' opinions of me than on my own goals. This isn't to say that you shouldn't study or try (please study and try), but it is to say that grades can be an idol.
It’s worth it to know what to say when someone asks you to defend your faith (Hebrews 11:1). It’s worth it to know the background of the hope that we have.
It's worth it to know you were fearfully and wonderfully made when your body insecurities, social insecurities, or fashion insecurities start to weigh on your shoulders more heavily than your backpack straps (Psalm 139:14).
It's worth it to know what defines you—and what doesn't (1 Peter 2:9). Greek life is so fun, but those letters are not the end-all, be-all. This is coming from the girl who would have tattooed her letters to her right arm: do not put all your stock in this. There is more to life than your Greek affiliation (or not having a Greek affiliation!).
It’s worth it to guard your heart and your mind, to resist temptation and to put God's glory before your own glorification (Proverbs 4:23). I used to think He was trying to keep us from fun . . . And gosh, that just isn't true. He's the Author of fun. And He knows how we can best experience it.
It's definitely worth it to not only be reminded of the grace we have, but also to extend that to others (Ephesians 2:4–9). This was a huge mistake I made in college. That log in my eye was so big that it's a miracle I could even see?! Be merciful and loving and gracious. Show others the mercy Jesus lavishes to us first.
It’s especially worth it to wake up a little early or stay up a little late to spend time in the Word (Psalm 1:1–2). You will start to crave this time as the Bible begins to penetrate in your heart and in your life. It’s also worth it to go deeper and really dig into your study of God’s Word. I definitely didn't always do this well, especially freshman year of college, and man, did I feel it.
You need to plant that Word in your heart and carve His truths into your mind. You need to follow Him in college because you will need Him. We ALL need Him.
"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16
There’s no better time to start or end your day in the Word. There’s no better time to join a campus ministry or local church. There’s no better time to receive and extend His grace. There’s no better time to trust the plan He has for your life.
Don’t let your newfound freedom lead you astray. Rather, let Him lead you and watch as you find a freedom like no other. The next four years are so fun and exciting . . . And so is following Jesus. It's less about church dresses and rules and religion and checking boxes and never putting a toe in a bar. It's more about fellowship and peace and intimacy with a God who made you and grace for yourself and others and learning to be more like Him. And it's a lot about recognizing that we all need Jesus.
It's never too late to follow Him. It's never too early to follow Him.
And especially during these four years, it's so worth it.