I saw Abigail the other day.
This lovely young lady is my sister’s daughter. I’ve tracked Abby’s older sister Mary through high school, college and Baylor Medical School. She’s on her way to becoming a doctor.
Somehow, quite incredulously I suppose, I left Abby behind – in elementary school carrying a lunch box.
So when I asked her what grade she was in and Abby said “a senior” I was a bit surprised.
How’d she get this far this fast?
I had been ambushed by time once again.
Now here I was discussing college with my younger niece!
A lot of you know the feeling.
Maybe it’s your son or your daughter – maybe it’s your grandson you used to take fishing.
Now he’s off to college and you can’t believe it.
Another academic year has started. Young people from all over the country have headed back to school. Many are going there for the first time.
Some of us still remember what it was like to be in college. In many ways, it was the very best time of our lives. We had few responsibilities, limitless opportunities, and a lot of exciting choices. For many of us, it was the first extended time away from home, away from our parents, and away from our church.
College is an adventure. It’s time for intellectual and philosophical exploration, for broadening horizons and new ideas. For all of its excitement, this is also a time of particular vulnerability for young people who claim to follow Jesus Christ.
A recent study says that over 70% of young adults in America abandon the church between the ages of 18 and 22. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they turn their backs on God. However, this statistic reflects the fact that the college years have traditionally been a time of increasing doubt and questioning when it comes to religious faith.
If you’re the parent of a college student – or a college student yourself – here are some thoughts.
Doubt is not to be feared.
It’s natural, especially for the young who are transitioning into independent adulthood. Better the freedom of honest doubt than the forced coercion of belief. Inherited, second-hand faith, passed on by loving parents, is often brittle and cannot withstand the winds of skepticism. You may even discover that doubt is a comfort and a guide on your journey to a faith you can actually embrace.
Parents ask, “Why can’t you just believe like we do?” The child asks, “Why should I? What if I don’t?”
“Let truth and falsehood grapple openly in the arena,” wrote John Milton. “Who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter.”
In the end, no one else can believe for you. You must choose to believe for yourself. Personal, intimate faith is the only authentic faith. It’s the only faith that will stand the test of time and the trials ahead. It’s the only faith worth having.
It’s the difference between the abstract and the real; between theory and life.
And this is true whether you’re 65 or 19.
It’s OK to take the time to sort it all out.
Contrary to popular myth, your professor does not have all the answers.
Take his or her opinions for what they are: personal opinions. Add a few grains of skeptical salt. They may be smarter than those who taught you before you arrived at college, but don’t count on it. Question the questioners. Respect, but don’t be intimidated by, the title of “Doctor”.
The excellent film God’s Not Dead revealed the inner pain and fragility that often masquerades as scholastic smugness.
I learned a lot from my university professors. But I never blindly accepted their biases because of their academic status. In the end, they’re all just mortals, struggling with faith as we all are. Be on guard against their certainty.
In another context, the Apostle John wrote that we should “test the spirits” (I John 4:1). This same principle of objective inquiry and critical thinking applies as equally to unbelief as it does to belief. And it works as well in the classroom as it does in the church.
Make friends with fellow student travelers. Find ways to meet other Christians. They are facing the same experience, the same challenges, and the same doubts as you are. Draw strength from your shared – and perhaps different – perspectives. You may feel it sometimes, but you are not alone. Seek out fellowship. It will be a source of great encouragement. And perhaps some lasting friendships.
Mom and Dad:
Don’t worry, pray.
Don’t argue, listen.
Don’t judge, hope.
Don’t condemn, love – and give a hug.
One of the wisest men who ever lived offered some advice that we should consider before we cast our vote on faith at the age of 21:
“Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old…” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NLT).
Parents and students: test your faith. It can stand it – and so can you.
And the God Who dealt with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and with Peter and Paul – will understand.
They came around. So will you.
May God bless you and your family.