My Advice for Christian Kids Going to College

I have probably been through 3 crises of faith. Every time I came out on the other side changed for the better, I believe. My take is this: If something is true, and God is also true, yet the two seem contradictory, then there must be something that is unknown or in revealed. I found that I had to be willing to hold those ideas in limbo for a time.

Many Christians aren’t willing to do that. They want to decide TODAY what is true on every aspect of the sciences and philosophy. That makes us come across as haughty, which is basically like saying we’re smarter than everyone else. That’s how others read it, anyway. But when you are willing to consider others’ perspectives, it shows you value them as human beings. In one of my classes once, a kid was asked why he had a particular belief. He said “because the Bible tells me so.” That argument doesn’t fly in college.

Christians are too quick to write off “disbelievers” as egotistical etc, but when we do that, we ignore legitimate questions about our faith, and no thinking person has respect for that. So this is a chance to understand those questions and objections, not because you necessarily think they are right, but because you respect other people. Jesus did that and he was criticised for it. He did it because he wanted to start conversations and develop relationships. Ask a lot of questions – not to prove a point, but to understand where people are coming from.

One reason people hate religion is because religious people have a tendency not to think for themselves and to believe at face value whatever a trusted leader represents us with. On the news, this looks like Westboro Baptist, or ISIS, both of which are abominable organizations. If the process feels rocky, don’t worry. If God is truth, then you have nothing to fear.

I have a lot of atheist friends. Some of them are very intelligent. You don’t win them over by arguing. You do it by developing relationship that starts with respect for their conviction. They have life experiences that lead them to one conclusion or another, same as us. My friends know if I ask them why they don’t believe in God, it’s because I actually want to know, not because Im trying to start and win and argument. And then one of them the other day asked me about death, because a friend of hers lost a baby. The classroom is not a place to win, really – it’s a place to understand. Only when you understand, and you have reflected on the validity of your own beliefs, can you give a meaningful answer to questions like “why did my friend’s baby die.”

Those are the moments where Jesus can reach people. They don’t even always want a rational explanation, either. When people come to the end of themselves, that is when they can hear Jesus speaking.

Something good to remember is “respond, don’t react.” If someone speaks angrily about God, we feel defensive – that’s our reaction, but that will not help them. It’s better to set aside our knee jerk reaction and seek to respond to what is driving their actions. That usually starts with asking questions, where you listen. Sometimes just listening, not trying to give an answer in return, is a huge testimony. It surprises people, because they view Christians as defensive and attacking. Giving no answer, but considering what they say instead, leaves the door open instead of shutting it.

One of my friends told me the other day that I’m a different kind of Christian. She invited us to a party where as far as i can tell, we were the only religious people present. I didn’t see the other guests as potential converts – I saw them as interesting people worth knowing, people with different perspectives that I could learn from. Jesus did that with people. He wanted to develop relationships. He was/is intensely interested in people. 

Developing Vision

“When I grow up, I want to be a _____!”

That’s what everyone says as kids. We assume that there is an arrival point. And why not? At 13, you get social media. At 16, you get to drive. At 18, you get to graduate high school and vote. At 21, you get to drink. At 25, your car insurance premium decreases, and you’ve perhaps finished some kind of college degree. It took me 10 years after college to realize that after graduation, there are no more arrival points. Life becomes quite nebulous.

I’m looking to change career fields. At first, I thought this was a dark secret best kept in the proverbial closet. What I’m discovering is that there’s a good number of people — quality people — doing the same thing. I spent the summer job hunting and decided graduate studies were in order. But here’s what I’ve learned along the way, so far.

  • College is two things: 1) an opportunity to study something you love, and 2) a financial investment. Play both angles. Do you love arts and humanities? Fantastic — consider minoring in those subjects. Keep your mind open to majoring in something a little more financially lucrative and stable. The minor can still be useful in adding an extra edge to your resume, not to mention that arts and humanities studies make us better human beings. College is one of the very, very few times in life when you can have your cake and eat it too.
  • If you can, choose a major that affords you a lot of options. Business majors know this. Every industry needs business-savvy people on board. If you start in one industry and change later, it’s very doable. If you major in something very specific, like instrumental music education, the only thing you can teach is band/strings. A school district will have very few openings for that position. If you want to be a teacher, consider something like K-8 classroom teaching, or special ed, or occupational therapy — positions with multiple openings per district.
  • Consider the lifestyle, not just the field. If you need to be physically in motion most of the time, don’t go into a career field that mostly sits. If you hate getting up early, don’t be a stock trader. If you want to have kids, being a performing artist means you’re gone when they’re home. If you like teaching people one-on-one, don’t study classroom education. Be a reading specialist, or a physical therapist.
  • Join LinkedIn. Start networking for professional purposes. Join while you are still in college and can make a good number of connections, endorsements, and recommendations before you even graduate.
  • Conduct job searches early on. You’re not actually looking for a job — you’re looking for what employers are asking for in their applicants. Do they want certifications? Great, that saves you the trouble of getting a graduate degree. Search jobs and currently filled positions at businesses you’d like to work for — you might find a position you like that you didn’t even know existed.
  • Read and immerse. Read publications, blogs and websites important to the career field. Sign up for newsletters and join groups and forums. Follow Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. You don’t have to contribute — you’re there to absorb information. If you keep reading and are continually interested, great. If not, don’t go into that field. You’re also absorbing lingo and labels, which is important when you being the serious search for a job.

How should you conduct a job search? Here’s some tips I’ve picked up so far:

  • Use services, like Indeed and Simply Hired. Monster and Career Builder are out there too, and they all have apps for your phone.
  • Use LinkedIn’s job search feature. Don’t limit yourself geographically, because while you might be looking for a job, you’re also looking to widen your awareness of what is possible.
  • Use Twitter. Job-hunt.org has a great article on how to use Twitter as a job search. Do try both #job and #jobs with your keywords — you’ll get different results.
  • Network, network, network. Judging by my own experiences and those of people I’ve talked to, the best jobs are the ones you accidentally fall into, or are personally recommended for. I’m considering volunteering in an area related to the field I’m moving into. This is a legitimate way to build references and connections.

That’s what I’ve got so far. If you’re a young person going into college, searching for jobs seems like a world away, but I highly recommend it, as it will inform your educational choices. Don’t forget the following advice — I see it often lived out, one way or the other:

Without a vision, the people perish… – Proverbs 29:18

Even if your vision for your life changes frequently, it will keep you moving in a positive direction as your vision develops.