I remember it vividly – lying on a small, creaky bed thousands of miles away from nearly everyone and everything I had ever known. And I was terrified. Scared out of my mind because for the first time in my 19 years I was asking myself if it was true. All of it. Any of it. Not just about the “simple” things like instruments or baptism, but the very existence of God Himself.
Externally, nothing was different. I spoke and taught and acted the exact same way I always had. But I didn’t feel the same. I was basing my life off of things I desperately hoped, rather than fully believed, were true.
So I read. I read my Bible. I read books. I read everything I could find on the Internet. Things that supported what I believed to be true and things that caused me to question the very essence of who I was and wanted to be. Eventually, I found my answers, and my faith has become stronger and more fortified than I could have imagined. Because it was mine. Not mom’s or dad’s, or preacher’s or youth minister’s, or one of my amazingly strong Christian friends’ that I looked up to. I had my own answers and no one could take that knowledge, that truth, away from me.
To most of the world, going to college and leaving your parent’s home is about “finding yourself” and figuring out who you are outside of your parent’s home and the role you’ve always played. While I’ve known, and been envious, of those who have always seemed to know exactly who they are, I think most of us tend to fall into the realm of continual self-discovery. I believe an open mind and a willingness to learn and grow are admirable traits that we should strive for, but only when we have a foundation to build from. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to believe every random, bizarre claim or argument that comes our way.
But that foundation absolutely has to be your own. God in His infinite wisdom places the responsibility for our choices and beliefs on each one of us individually. In the book of Ezekiel, He reveals that, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20). Just as much as we cannot (and would not want) to be held responsible for the sins of others, we cannot (and should not want) to latch on to the strength of anyone else’s faith.
We tend to fear questions. We’re afraid of the answers we’ll find, but we shouldn’t be afraid to seek truth because of where that search might lead. I finally had to decide that if God didn’t exist, if my entire life was a lie, then I would rather know. And that realization changed everything, because I was free. Instead of the nagging doubts that I was afraid to look at too closely because of what they might reveal, I had the freedom to look at the evidence and draw my own conclusion. And I realized that God had answers everywhere for those who are looking. I saw that the same people who spend their lives crusading the cause of “no Christ,” couldn’t answer some of the most basic questions of how Earth and life began. I saw His hand in the world He created, just as He said I could (Romans 1:20). I read the Bible beginning to end and saw the clear story and perfect master plan that could not have happened without Him guiding the way. And I saw the historical and archeological evidence that more than convinced me that the words of the Bible were true.
The questions themselves aren’t our only fear though. Many of us fear how others will view us; that they’ll shun or look down upon us because our confidence doesn’t meet theirs. I had to realize that I couldn’t be afraid of others who might look down on me for trying to find answers. I think our fellow Christians, our friends, can be one of the biggest factors in staying faithful in college. They can challenge and strengthen us, encourage us when we need it the most. I’ve only been out of college a few years but already most relationships not built on faith have dwindled to nearly nothing. Christians have a bond and a common goal and hope that can’t be found with anyone else and there’s not a doubt in my mind my Christianity wouldn’t be where it is today without them.
It’s also vital to find Christians you can trust, especially knowledgeable ones who you can ask the difficult questions and have faith that they’ll give you real answers, not just what you want to hear. More people than I can count (myself included) that have grown up in the church, struggle with a question of “why me?” We want to know why we were so blessed to have stumbled upon the one relatively small group of people that just happened to get it right. The odds of that are so astronomical that it makes sense that we only believe it because that’s how we were raised. So we look to others, not trusting anyone who believes the same way as us because we feel they haven’t realized what we have – that there are all kinds of other options and we might not have it right. We don’t realize that others before us have battled the same questions and might have answers beyond our understanding or wisdom.
So don’t give up on your Christian relationships. They’re a treasure that should never be taken for granted. And ask your questions. All of them. Even the difficult ones. My thoughts and beliefs today aren’t the same on every issue today that they were when I was 19. They probably won’t be exactly the same in another six years either. But I know that God exists. I know that Jesus is His Son and He was crucified on a cross 2000 years ago to save my soul (John 3:15). I know that I am so beyond flawed that it would be unbearably tragic if it weren’t for His grace providing a way out (Eph. 2:8-9). I know the way to salvation includes, but is not limited to, water baptism for the forgiveness of my sins (1 Peter 3:21). I know that if I live for Him, despite my flaws, then I have no reason to fear death because He guarantees me an eternity of Heaven with Him (1 John 5:13).
And I know all this. Me. I’m not taking anyone’s word for it. God is too important to rely on anyone else. My soul is too valuable to just believe whatever others tell me. So is yours. And God wants it more than you could possibly imagine. That’s why He’s made the evidence so plain to those who will just look. So as you venture out on your own, begin college, and start to “find yourself,” make sure to open your eyes. He’s there.
By Lauren Bookout
Lauren and her husband, Travis, serve with the Jackson St. church of Christ in Monroe, LA. Lauren is the Editor for KatharosNOW, a website and monthly e-zine devoted to helping teen girls be set apart for Christ. She is a graduate of Southeastern Oklahoma State University with a degree in school counseling. Lauren has had the privilege of speaking at several Girls’ Days and is available to speak. You can contact her at lbookout@katharosNOW.com