Written by Jocelyn Gamble / February 2017
College is not easy. The homework, the new professional and social environments, these are not meant to be easy. They are meant to be challenging.
The University of Minnesota is a big school. 51,147 students-big, to be exact. This number is not much less than the population of the city I went to high school in. Everything is big, and impressive, and overwhelming, and as a friend of mine put it, “It’s all too easy to get lost in the crowd.”
As Christians, I think it is easier for us to get lost. Suddenly, in our beliefs and morals, we are in the minority. We find ourselves lowering our voices when we speak of our plans to go to church, covering up our religious tattoo for job interviews.
I have a Christian friend here at the UofM, and I will likely quote him multiple times. I have not forgotten the first time I visited this campus. We were having a long discussion in the exact coffee shop I am sitting in right now, and I must have said “Christian” or something along the lines of that a little too boldly, because he shushed me. My vocalization of our faith in such a secular and public place made him nervous. That was my first taste of the paradox surrounding Christianity in a college/professional environment. Our society has taken sensitivity of the first amendment so far, we keep quiet about our religions, lest, perish the thought, we offend someone with them.
sitting on that bridge, reading a public sign that contradicts the Christian mentality completely, is probably the loneliest I have ever felt. Going weeks without hearing a sermon, without singing a hymn with friends, makes for the most isolated experience I have ever known.
A lot has gone down here at the UofM this year. Between the election, and a suicide on the main bridge connecting campus, people have been a bit on edge. Washington Bridge, which connects campus across the Mississippi River, is plastered with posters for various student groups, art, and just about everything else. A long, handmade poster went up in November that read “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that,” (-Martin Luther King Jr.).
In accordance with the general freedom of expression on Washington Bridge, someone posted their own sign underneath as a response. The new poster read “You do not have to love someone who hates you”. They had also crossed out the “not” in the original poster. I discovered this one night as I was crossing the bridge, and sat down on the bench across from it as I read and reread the new poster.
I broke down. I cried, right there on the middle of Washington bridge, in front of security guards and random students walking to late-night classes. And I am not a crier. It has been times like these the Bible passages my sister sends me from time to time come into play. Psalm 34:18- “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
I think about that night on Washington bridge almost every day, trying to pinpoint exactly what was so important about it, what God wants me to learn from it. What I remember is this: sitting on that bridge, reading a public sign that contradicts the Christian mentality completely, is probably the loneliest I have ever felt. Going weeks without hearing a sermon, without singing a hymn with friends, makes for the most isolated experience I have ever known. It’s one thing to be quiet, but it’s another to be shushed.
It is much easier to work on your personal attitude than change the mindset of everyone around you. So that is what I am doing. I began attending Bible study, made Christians friends, and bring up my religion even when I know it isn’t shared. My public walk with God is not only beneficial to those with whom I share His Word; my faith grows as well. It’s not ILC, and it’s not even close to everything I could ask for, but I’m not in this alone. And that’s not nothing.
Our society has taken sensitivity of the first amendment so far, we keep quiet about our religions, lest, perish the thought, we offend someone with them.
I met with the friend previously mentioned in this article to “work on homework” one night, or, as it would be more appropriately named, “hang out and talk about random things until 1am on a school night.” We talked a lot about faith, and how it is affected by transitions like coming to college. While reflecting on the frailty that seems to be the faith of a good number of college students, he said something that stuck with me: “Christians are not meant to be lone wolves.” He was right.
To build off of his analogy, we Christians are pack animals. We work as a unit to know God and make Him known. This is not to say our faith is dependent on that of others, but simply that fellowship is natural. So my advice, the suggestion of an eighteen year-old who is frequently lost and consistently discouraged, is this: Search for God and his saving message. Look for Him in every person you meet, Christian or not. Admire Him in the way the sun rises and children laugh. Be kind to everyone and see the best in them, as God’s love for you by sending Jesus to die for you lets him see the best in you.
One more thing. The previously-mentioned signs of love and hatred on Washington bridge were covered with uplifting Post-it notes, written by all kinds of passerbys. The most frequently displayed message was this: “You are loved.” How incredible is that? All kinds of people, not even realizing that God is the author of this belief, proclaim His truth. They accept this promise from God and declare it with complete confidence, oftentimes ignorant of its origin. The most uplifting moments I have had in college are the ones where “non-religious” people reflected Christianity in their “personal beliefs.” Before leaving the bridge that night, I contributed my own Post-it message: Luke 6:27-28, 31 “But I say to you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. And just as you want men to do to you, do to them likewise.” After all, as 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.”