ARIs Your Faith Your Own?A challenge to establish a personal relationship with God"I felt as if a galaxy stood between my spiritual foundation and my personal faith...." Find out what happened to this sister's faith in college.Moving away from home to go to college is a challenging yet rewarding experience. At the same time, it is a true test of faith, is your faith your own? Jennifer Li shares her experience of moving thousands of miles away from home and how her newfound freedom affected her faith. If you are someone enjoying your newfound independence and still wondering how faith fits into your life, don't forget to ask questions and find out for yourself. You alone are responsible for your own path. And a relationship with God is truly the most personal relationship you can have.
from home to go to college was one of the most challenging yet
rewarding experiences of my life. While three thousand miles
separated me physically from my family and familiar surroundings, I
felt as if a galaxy stood between my spiritual foundation and my
personal faith in and relationship with God. Of course, I didn’t
realize this at first. Until I moved away, my faith had been rooted
in my family, my brothers and sisters in the True Jesus Church, and
the cultural and social ritual of going to church.
Enjoying Newfound Freedom
So I left the
comforts of home to explore college, make new friends, attend classes, and
enjoy the luxuries of a liberal arts education. I have to admit that I
didn’t really think about what was going to happen to my faith. It
hadn’t occurred to me that anything would fundamentally change or that I
should be concerned about my spiritual identity. I wish I could say that I
searched immediately for friends who also shared faith, or that I prayed
and studied the Bible on my own to cultivate a relationship with God. In
truth, I was so focused on my education and all the new stimuli around me
that I hardly thought about God, salvation, fellowship, prayer, and so on.
No one around me had expectations for me to attend church every weekend or
"be Christian." Unfortunately, without the external pressure and
my own internal fire for God, my faith hit a standstill.
In fact, I found
excitement and new challenges in this newfound independence. I remember
late-night conversations with hall-mates about political beliefs or
socioeconomic injustices in the world. I studied the politics of war,
macroeconomics, psychology, and literature. All these things I found
edifying, but in an academic sense—even casual debates about religion
and the validity and deconstruction of the Bible. Like many college kids,
I attended parties, hung out with peers, ate pizza, ice cream, and lots of
mashed potatoes, and attended football and basketball games. Unaware that
my spiritual health needed to be nurtured, I let down God by letting my
faith fall behind.
Fanning the Flame of Faith
Toward the end of my
freshman year, I found success in academics and in an outgoing group of
friends. I was, by and large, a well-adjusted college student. Yet a
distant, dull emptiness and sadness existed in my heart. I felt unsettled
that maybe my self-selected friends didn’t really know who I was. Sure,
they knew I was a Chinese-American woman from Southern California
interested in democracy and political science, a feminist and a former
cheerleader. But did they know that my spiritual faith (admittedly a weak
one) existed and had informed my values and beliefs for as far back as I
could remember? And yet, how could they? Furthermore, why had I failed to
communicate to others either through actions or words that this faith
By some grace of
God, or maybe even as a result of that tiny flame of faith built up by
family and a lifetime ritual of going to church, I met a friend, Ruth, at
the end of my freshman year. We shared questions about religion and faith,
and for the very first time in my life someone challenged me to explain my
beliefs. Why did I go to church on Saturday (at least theoretically, since
I wasn’t regularly attending the Philadelphia prayer house services)?
How did I understand the path to salvation to be constructed? Is the Holy
Spirit truly present only when spiritual tongues are spoken?
To my embarrassment,
I didn’t have ready answers to these questions. But finally I began
exploring the beliefs I had held and practiced for almost two decades. The
most poignant thing about this time in my life was that I needed to figure
out—on my own terms and through my own actions—why I believed in God.
Did He truly love me? Was I really a part of His flock? If so, what did
this mean for me—this idealistic college student, far away from home?
And, most important, what choices would I make about how I lived my life?
Over the next year,
I found God again. I wouldn’t say that I ever wholly lost Him, but more
that I found him on my own. There wasn’t a dramatic moment of clarity
when, through lightning and thunder, God spoke to me. No bells and
whistles or fanfare about it. Rather, finding my faith and experiencing
God’s love came over time, through a process in which I continued to
seek him out. Through a combination of studying the Bible, singing praises
through an a cappella Christian group, praying, and seeking friends with
whom I could be challenged in faith, my spiritual foundation built up.
I remember one
conversation when a friend asked if I believed that God loved me and that
He promised His salvation for me. I just knew. I can’t accurately
describe why, or how it felt, but my heart was sure of God’s love for
me. It’s weird how life plays out. During that time in college, I
didn’t actively have to pursue a faith; I could have walked away. How
terribly scary and powerful is that? Yet, I found Him.
Looking back, I
can’t recall how those conversations with Ruth began or how I even met
her. I found mercy in God’s eyes and He drew me near. I believe that God
kept me in His fold because I hadn’t totally closed him out—somehow my
heart still wanted to know what faith meant to me. God doesn’t fail us
if we have a heart to seek Him. And so I share this story not because
I’m proud of my particular path of faith, but simply to convey that God
is so patient and so kind, and He is constantly with us—even when we
feel the farthest away.
Do You Know Whom You Believe?
freedom come with choice and free will—tremendous responsibilities for
an eighteen-year-old. From the mundane decisions in life (Do I feel like
going to class today?) to the more weighty ones (Should I go to this party
and drink?), all of a sudden I had complete say in what I chose to do and
who I chose to be. So if you are enjoying your newfound independence and
still wondering how faith fits into your life, don’t forget to ask
questions and find out for yourself. You alone are responsible for your
own path. And a relationship with God is truly the most personal
relationship you can have.
Leaving the safe
harbor of home and family can be both strangely terrifying and
exhilarating at the same time. Now I’m a student again, this time in
graduate school, also some three thousand miles from home. I face similar
challenges to those of my college days, such as meeting a new set of
friends and adjusting to a new environment. This time around, however, my
foundation of faith is my own. So as I ride this roller coaster of my
life, where there are so many opportunities to redefine who I want to be,
how does my faith in God play out in day-to-day priorities and practical
It’s a constant
struggle to draw closer to God and keep an active faith. I would be lying
if I said that it wasn’t. But I’ve experienced the love of Christ for
myself, and I know whom I believe in. Do you? If not, do you have the
heart to seek answers?
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