When I moved into Steeb Hall freshman year, I brought so much excitement for the year ahead of me. I brought a lot of questions and nervousness too but the prospect of a fresh start after high school seemed to overshadow those both. For me, college was a chance to move past those weaker aspects of my reputation and improve on the strong points, all the while paving the path towards a successful career, whatever that meant. With all that said, I also brought something with me to college that I didn’t recognize at the time: pride.
If I’m being honest with myself, my lifestyle in college was very much a continuation of my high school existence. I found much of my personal satisfaction in maintaining perfect grades, being well-respected, and ultimately being seen as a put-together individual. So, when the end of winter quarter freshman year at Ohio State saw me fumbling through my engineering courses, barely keeping my head above the water, I had a bit of an existential crisis. Gone were the days of “having it all together” and succeeding with little effort, I was now competing with some of the smartest and most determined students in the nation and utterly failing.
At that point, I had a clear chance to ask for help, to reevaluate my major, to explore new options. I literally could have used Freshman Forgiveness but unfortunately, I didn’t. My pride wouldn’t let me. My ego screamed that I had to push through, that any redo would set back the trajectory of my life. So instead of admitting my need, I clung to image of one day having a big house, being a success in the corporate world, and having everyone’s affirming looks when they heard my annual salary - for nearly two more years.
Now, let me just say, if you’re figuring out after two weeks in college that life here isn’t all you thought it would be, you’re okay. In fact, though it might not seem like it, you’re in the majority. Deeper than that though, you might be figuring out that you are not all you thought you would be. You might be seeing you aren’t as smart as you thought you were, you aren’t as sociable as you thought you’d be, you aren’t the perfect roommate you told yourself you could be. Let me tell you something I wish I would have heard four years ago: that’s okay too.
EMBRACING OUR WEAKNESS
There will always be someone who’s smarter, more athletic, better looking - the list goes on. Being honest about your shortcomings is a substantial aspect of maturity. In truth, if we’re to take Jesus seriously, it is essential. If we are even to believe the Gospel, the core message that God saved us weak and hopeless sinners, we must first come to that place where we can say, “I have fallen short.” The difficult reality is recognizing that this confession is not just a one-time deal.
EMBRACING OUR NEED
The Christian life is walked on the path of grace, and that can be a hard path to tread. Thinking back to my freshman year, I knew I needed Jesus but I tried to limit that need of Him, to take His forgiveness only when I absolutely required it. I can tell you now that that is not a satisfying way to live and that isn’t how Jesus intends for us to follow Him. CS Lewis highlights the beautiful paradox of life with Christ when he says, “Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God. For what can be more unlike than fullness and need, sovereignty and humility, righteousness and penitence, limitless power and a cry for help?”
So what is this article? What should it produce? Really all I wish I could communicate to a college student who’s trying to navigate classes and friendships and life is this: be honest with yourself. Don’t put up the front that you have it all figured out, that life is happy all the time, and that your Instagram account is the most real depiction of your existence. Be real, and then respond to that reality. If you’re seeing, maybe for the first time, the depth of your failures, Jesus is crying out for you to go to Him. He was perfect when we could never be and offers immeasurable grace. Despite our best efforts to be, we aren’t flawless and only when we realize that can we draw near to the One who is.