During college I threw myself wholly into campus ministry. I was on leadership, president of the ministry, and led as much as I could. One could argue that my time within that ministry formed my college years and who I am more than the degree I was there to earn - both positively and negatively. In those years I was challenged, I learned, I struggled, and most importantly I had the opportunity to be a part of an ever changing and unique community of wonderful human beings.
Now, I am a college graduate, three years into marriage, churchless, struggling to find community.
Here's what I didn't learn in college.
I never learned how to find a church. I never learned how to be a Christian in the “real world”. I used to absolutely loathe that phrase when I was in college because college is your real world at the time. But for lack of a better phrase, the real world for me now is where everything is not so readily available, not so tangible, with a different level of responsibility and independence. I didn't learn how to cope with not being a college student. My home, my family, my friends, my titles, for four years were all stripped away at once. I never learned what to do when you did find a church and a community or what to do when those things were lost. I never learned how these things would affect a marriage. Myself. My relationship with God.
Here's what I did learn in college.
I learned what was important. I learned that people and genuine loving connections with them should take priority over things (like ever going to sleep before midnight). I learned how to manage my emotions in my faith. I learned how to be on a team, how to lead, and how to persevere. I learned to listen, to really listen in order to understand and process, and not just to respond. I learned to think carefully and lovingly before speaking. I learned to not interrupt, to read people, to cushion the way I deliver advice or insight based on authentically knowing the person sitting across from me. I learned to speak the truth, unabashedly in loving boldness, but not in bluntness.
Most importantly, I learned more about God first, always. I cannot love, learn, apply, connect, speak truth, or be unless I know who He is and whose I am.
Here's what I'm learning now.
God is doing the teaching. He's teaching me how to find a church. He's teaching me how to live in His ways, no matter where I'm at in life. He's teaching me how to cope and manage change. He's teaching me how to mourn. He's teaching me about marriage. He's teaching me about myself. And most of all, He's allowing me to come to Him, as I am, with all I am, good and bad.
And the honest reality is that there's bad. Part of who I am is bitter, broken, wronged, entitled, frustrated, lost, angry, heavy-hearted, and skeptical. Just because God is teaching me these things doesn't always mean that I listen, or that I even want to listen. It surely doesn't mean that it's an easy and seamless process. It doesn't mean that pain doesn't creep back in and enable my bitterness. And then bitterness has a way of getting a choking grasp on your heart and altering you in every facet of your being. Sometimes I look back and would love to blame a ministry, a church, people.. for creating negative experiences, for telling lies, for treating people poorly, for things that I took to heart and hardened me. But one piece of advice I've carried with me from a pastor in college was that I am in control of how I act and react. We can't control what is done to us all of the time, but we can choose how we respond to that, and how we treat others despite that.
What I learned in college and what I'm learning now is not always rainbows and butterflies, but it's forming a foundation for growth. And what I haven't learned is just showing me that God's not done with me yet.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
- Bri Santoro