A couple months ago I was blessed to sit at a lunch table full to brimming with some of my very favorite people. To my left sat my friend Erin who’ll begin her freshman year at Auburn University this week. To my right sat my friend Mitch. Mitch will start his junior year at Abilene Christian next Monday.
I asked Mitch to give Erin a piece of advice, wisdom from one college student to another.
He thought for a second and then said,
Whatever you’re looking for, that’s what you’ll find.
Looking back at my college experience (and having mentored so many young people through their college years) I can’t think of anything more true.
Fourteen years ago, I went to college looking to be liked—because I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t want to be alone and I was tired of not being cool. When I found people (pretty, popular people) who welcomed me, I grabbed tightly and indiscriminately. And I ended up friends with some of the meanest girls I’ve ever met.
Be careful what you look for.
I don’t have to tell you that if you go to college looking for a party or sex or drama or godless intellectualism, you’ll find it. Your parents are terrified you’ll find it. But while they might worry you’ll be drugged and forced into a fraternity of beer-drinking Satan worshippers, you know that’s not how it works. You know, at least in your clearer moments, that you find what you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for trouble, you’ll find it. You might call it freedom or self-discovery or an adventure or fun or even love, but however you name it, the dark is still the dark. Your light isn’t welcome there, and you won’t be long in the shadows before you find it snuffed out.
No matter how many out of touch adults tell you that, no matter how cliche it seems, no matter how strong you are, it’s still true: dabble in the dark and it will swallow you whole.
That’s the bad news. And it’s really bad.
But here’s the good:
If you’re looking for light, you’ll find that, too.
You’ll find it among communities of faithful, faith-filled students shining like bright cities on a dark landscape, salt in tasteless places.
You’ll find it in friendships built on love and partnership.
You’ll find it in a not-very-cool church building on the fringes of campus (And probably in a cool on-campus ministry, too).
You’ll find it between the lines of poetry in your literature anthology and in the cell diagrams in your biology text book.
You’ll find it in the generosity of a professor, in the peace of a twilight stroll through the commons, and in the pixel-painted words of your Bible app.
Look and you’ll find light painted onto every scene, thick brushstrokes of God’s presence.
But you have to look to find.
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote,
"The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out like shining from shook foil.”
Too many of us are walking around, shuffling from class to class, never shaking the foil. Just because you aren’t looking for trouble, doesn’t mean you are looking for God.
Ignore God, and you’ll miss Him.
Seek God, chase Him, and you’ll find Him. Jesus promised exactly that.
College is no exception.
Psalm 34:5 is one of my favorite sentences. The poet writes,
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
I think of all the things I’ve looked for, so many of which have led to the deepest pits of embarrassment and self-loathing, and as I read this passage, I find my head lifted, knowing that in looking for God I am made radiant, never covered with shame.
P.S. The picture at the top is of me with my second-try college friends, some of the brightest lights I know.