The other day I had a conversation with a friend. He was telling me that he was really struggling with his faith, not that he lost it but just that he was questioning a lot of things in his life. Like me, he goes to an Evangelical Christian college. His words caused me to think about my spiritual life at Wheaton College and how it has changed.
When I was a freshman, I came in on fire and fully trusting God with my life. My story for why I came to Wheaton was powerful, and it was clear to me, and to everyone around me, God wanted me to be at Wheaton. I woke up every morning my freshman year and prayed. I lived on 5 West (fifth floor on the west side) of Fischer Dorm and I loved waking up in the morning and going to the lounge that overlooked the Grammar school below. I would wake up before school started for them, and I watched the kids as they played on the playground, which was seriously incredibly fascinating. I remember praying and talking to God about the struggles I was having being at Wheaton College, the supposed “Harvard” of Christian colleges, and how inadequate I felt to be here. I remember God confirming to me over and over again that He had me exactly where he wanted me. His provision for me continued and I continually found myself back at Wheaton.
But my sophomore slump came and I really started to struggle with my faith. I was a DSG leader, and some of the fire in me from my freshman year was still present, but I really struggled with my family situation and bonds I had back at home. I struggled with healthy boundaries and what it meant to be a Christian. I began to think for myself and that scared people who expected me to continue to not think for myself. This is where my faith began to dry up.
Into my junior year, I began to really feel my faith be challenged. I didn’t understand why if God was so good, all of these terrible things were happening around me. I didn’t understand why God could and did instantly heal some people and then left others to suffer. I didn’t understand why if I was doing the right thing, why I felt so isolated and alone in doing it. I didn’t understand why I still couldn’t find a church to call my own and why I still struggled with what the community of Christ was meant to be. I continued to feel more and more distant from God. Not rejecting him or turning away from him, but I felt dry. I couldn’t feel his presence anymore and I wondered where he went or why he left me.
As a freshman I came into Wheaton and felt like I knew what a Christian was and what it was supposed to look like. I felt like my image of a Christian was neatly packed away in a nice cardboard box. It was organized and laid out what a Christian did and what a Christian didn’t do. But then coming to Wheaton, I ran into people who grew up all over the world, in places and cultures that look completely different than American culture. Slowly, God began to take a part my nice, neatly packed cardboard box. He took parts out and said, well, yes, but a Christian can also look like this. My view of what it meant to be a Christian grew and grew. I became aware of the fact that culture affects the way people live, grow, and relate to Christ. This expanded my view of God and the way he works in people’s lives.
Looking back on my spiritually dry desert, I questioned my relationship with Christ. I asked myself, did I know God better when I was a freshman? Was my relationship with Christ deeper because I read my bible and prayed every morning? My gut reaction was “Yes”. But as I began to actually think about it, I realized that it wasn’t. God tested my faith, and grew me in ways that I couldn’t even fathom when I was a freshman. In order to get through my sophomore and junior years at Wheaton, I needed to trust God immensely. Even when I didn’t feel like I was trusting God, I was trusting him to know where he was leading me. This gave me a deep, deep, sense of freedom.
This freedom was realizing that I don’t need to read my Bible everyday for God to be working in my life. I don’t need to wake up early and pray for God to work in my life. God is working in my life no matter what I do. This caused me to realize, God is NOT dependent on ME to do the work he wants to do in my life. He doesn’t sit back and make sure I’m reading my Bible and praying and then says, good job, now I’ll give you this blessing in your life. God doesn’t work that way. It made me realize God has taken ahold of my life and is working in my life no matter what I do.
I told this to a friend and she reminded me of the passage in Genesis where Abraham and God make a covenant, and God upholds His side of the covenant, but also Abraham’s side of the covenant. We often forget that as Christians, God has lifted the burden of our obligation of the covenant off. We have Jesus who has taken our sins away and who has taken the old covenant and fulfilled it with himself.
Being at a Christian college and being in Christian community, I think this idea gets muddled. We feel like we need to act a certain way, follow certain rules to “be Christian”. I’m not saying that rules are bad, and that we should go off and do whatever we want. But I am saying that these rules, and legalistic guidelines confine us and our relationship with God to be a certain way. And because of that confining, we lose the meaning of Christian community. Christian community should be a place where people are themselves, fully accepted as God’s creation, sharpened by each other, and led closer and closer to Christ and who he is. When Christian community becomes a place where people can’t be real, share their struggles- including with their own faith- then we lose a sense of the Christian community we are called to.
I want you to know, if you are a Christian in a Christian community struggling with your own faith and what it means, you’re not alone. More than likely, there are many struggling and asking the same questions. I don’t think God is opposed to this, questioning. When questioning is in the right context, state of mind and kind of heart, it is a time of great, great growth. Questioning can be sought to drive you further from Christ, but when your intentions are to understand more fully, God provides.
I will leave you with this:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39
For more on this idea of questioning, I wrote this post awhile back called “the questioning soul“.