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.