Sunlight streamed through the windows of the student lounge, forcing me to squint as I tried to catch glimpses of the other freshmen around me. There we were, 150 of us sitting on the floor and sweatingboth from the mid-September heat and from our nervousness about what our first year of college would be like.
It was the end of freshman orientation week and about a third of our class had gathered for an informal time of sharing and fellowship. After several students talked about how God had led them to Seattle Pacific University, our dean of students offered this challenge:
"I hope your four years here will be marked by life-changing spiritual growth. Some of you don't know what you believe. Others of you seem sure of what you believe but don't know why. Still others of you need to discover a personal faith that's distinct from your parents'. All of you will need to work to keep your faith fresh. You can't take it for granted."
When the meeting ended, I shuffled through the autumn leaves that had already carpeted the grassy field next to my dorm. Who does the dean think he's talking to? I wondered. My faith is already my own. And it's solid.
I'd grown up in a pastor's home and had been president of my church youth group. I had no doubts about God or about my relationship with him. I felt like I had been talked-down to and treated like a child.
Too Busy for God?
The first few weeks of college were a blur of midnight burger runs, late-night conversations with guys on my floor, and an overwhelming amount of schoolwork. Sprawling on my bed under a brightly lit desk lamp each night, I trudged through dozens of pages of reading.
With all I had to do each night, I wasn't getting to sleep until almost two in the morning. When my alarm jarred me awake with its piercing whine, I'd hit the snooze button, muttering, "Just 15 more minutes, all I want is 15 more minutes of sleep." This meant I hardly had any time at all to shower, jump into my jeans, pull on a sweatshirt and grab a bowl of Cap'n Crunch at the dining hall.
Before long, I was completely blowing off the morning devotional routine I'd kept throughout high school. To smooth over my guilty conscience, I'd tell myself: Well, at least I'm connecting with God at chapel. But with my mind cluttered with assignments and foggy from missed sleep, it was a connection with a lot of static on the line.
It wasn't easy to quiet the guilt I feltat least not during those first couple of weeks on campus. My conscience was always there, nudging me and letting me know I wasn't really doing much to grow in my faith. My roommate's behavior was also a constant reminder that my relationship with God wasn't what it should be. It's not that Kelvin put me down or got on my case. He was really nice and we'd become pretty good friends. But he always seemed to find time for God each morning or evening. I'd be sitting at my desk, sipping a cup of strong coffee and plodding through my studies, and Kelvin would be sitting on his bed reading his Bible and bowing in silent prayer. It's not like he was showy or anything. And he spent plenty of time doing homework, too. But it also seemed like he always made sure he spent time with God.
As the semester continued, my conscience didn't bother me as much. I'd even convinced myself that sleeping in on Sunday mornings wasn't all that bad: Why do I need to get up for church? I go to chapel all week long. Do I really need another service?
One Sunday morning, I heard Kelvin's alarm buzz him awake. He wasted no time throwing off his covers and heading for the showers. I pulled my blanket over my head and tried unsuccessfully to fall back asleep. "Not going to worship today?" he asked rather quietly.
I pretended not to hear him.
Keeping Faith Fresh
"Straight A's! Man, I can't believe it! I got straight A's!"
I'd just received my mid-term grades and I couldn't hold back my excitement.
I also couldn't keep from bragging to my roommate.
Kelvin was quiet for a moment. He looked like he wanted to say something, but wasn't sure he should. As he continued to look my way, he finally said softly and slowly, "Can I tell you something, Greg? I'm not surprised you've done so well in your classes. You've worked hard. You're very disciplined in keeping up with your homework. But I'm wondering how you're feeling about your heart-work."
"What are you talking about?" I shot back. I couldn't believe what I'd heard. Heart-worklike there was something not quite right with my heart. I dropped down on my bed and turned away from him. The conversation was over. I'd ended it.
The next morning, I was still sleepy from a restless night of tossing and turningand feeling guilty. I walked slowly into the bathroom and began my morning shave. As I dragged the razor across one side of my face, I stopped and I looked long and hard into the mirror. I didn't like the person I saw staring back at me. More than that, I didn't like who I was becoming. Kelvin was right. I had been ignoring my "heart-work."
It wasn't like I'd turned into a party animal or was doing a bunch of really bad stuff. I was too busy to get into too much trouble! But my studies had become like sort of a god to me. They'd become so important that I let them take over my life. Standing there with shaving cream on half of my face, I realized that an A in New Testament class didn't mean much if I didn't apply what I was learning.
After dinner that evening, I swallowed my pride and had a long talk with Kelvin. I told him I was glad he'd confronted me. Then I asked him if we could start having devotions together. He said that would be great. As much as I thought I could live my faith all on my own, I now knew I needed my roommate to help me get my priorities straightened out.
Over the next few weeks, I became better at having my morning devotions. And while I still occasionally overslept, I tried my best to make church a priority. I was far from perfect, but I really wanted to honor God with my life and make time for him. I'm glad Kelvin was there to encourage me. I'm also glad I was there to encourage and help him with his own spiritual walk. Together, we were learning what it meant to build a deeper relationship with God.
The dean was right when he told us, "All of you will need to work to keep your faith fresh. You can't take it for granted." I was determined, with God's help, to follow the dean's advice.