Moving away 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 existed?
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?
Independence and 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 living?
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?
"On Campus" seeks to support and inspire an active faith among our youth through candid discussion and exploration of the many challenges facing Christians on campus. Please send comments on this article or questions about student life to firstname.lastname@example.org.