Seeking Christ in the Adventures of College
If you've ever seen Beauty and the Beast, then you know that Belle sings the words: "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere/I want it more than I can tell." These words have never been more relatable for me than when I started college. I left for college expecting the next four years to be full of action-packed adventures. Yet, I soon learned that a great adventure is not solely a mountaintop experience. Sometimes, it's a valley. And still other times, it's just the walking in between (or so Ben Rector says).
The truth is, my college adventure was actually just a small part of a much bigger adventure. St. Augustine of Hippo tells us: "To seek Christ is the greatest adventure." All other earthly adventures are just temporary, but the adventure of seeking Christ is eternal. So in trying to put into words the gritty details of both my college adventure and my life-long journey towards Heaven, I just kept thinking about adventure movies. If you think about it, all great adventure movies have 7 consistent themes:
1. A thirst for something bigger than yourself
Everyone who begins an adventure expects to find something by the end. Sometimes, that thing is a concrete object, like a national treasure or a crystal skull. Other times, that thing is more abstract, like finding who you really are. Now, I obviously came to college in search of something concrete: a degree. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was also looking for something more abstract. St. Catherine of Siena said: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So I came to college in search of God’s plan for my life. I already had a pretty good idea of who I was, but if the last four years have taught me anything, it’s that you are never done learning about yourself. The truth is, my journey to find myself was actually a journey to find something bigger than myself. It was a journey to find Christ and allow Him to dwell within me. Instead of finding myself, I found the God-given talents through which I best radiate His love and JOY.
2. Meeting strangers along the way, and wondering if you can trust them
I once saw a really terrible adventure movie (which I won’t even name because I don’t want you to watch it), in which the protagonists came upon an alien offering to help guide them, but they were unsure if they should trust him or not. One of the protagonists recognized the alien’s peculiar outfit and said, “I never trust a guy in a tunic.” As is it turns out, they did end up trusting him, and it was a big mistake. His tunic was apparently the sign of criminality in his alien society. Basically, the protagonists should have trusted their instincts. What’s my point? That when I came to college, I was presented with 6,000 possible new friends. If my greatest adventure is to find my way to Heaven, then I should choose friends who will help me get there. I’m blessed to be able to look back and say that my college friends pushed me to be the best version of myself. They allowed Christ to work through them to get to me. At times, I was afraid to trust them; but in the long run, the more vulnerable you are with your friends (and likewise, the more vulnerable you are with Christ) the more opportunities you give them (Him) to love you. To love is to the will the good of another, and I can truly say that my college friends willed my good.
3. Getting lost
If you’re a teenager reading this then you likely can’t remember a world in which GPS didn’t exist. So maybe you’ve never gotten lost trying to get to your friend’s house across town, but if you’re like me, you’ve gotten lost several times on your spiritual adventure. Our journey towards heaven doesn’t come with a map, but that’s the beauty of it. Some of the best adventures I’ve had in college have been on nights when I had no set plans. On any given night, I could go for a walk with no destination in mind, and run into 20 different friends offering to do different, fun, exciting things! Getting lost is part of life, but the important thing is not to lose track of the ultimate goal. It’s okay if most nights I don’t know where I’m going, as long as what I do on those nights is going to lead me towards Heaven, because that’s my final destination.
4. Falling in love
With people, with places, with the fried mac&cheese balls they serve in the cafeteria. I fell in love numerous times over my last four years, and each time I learned more about myself. I learned to be vulnerable, to be courageous, to trust other people. But most of all, I learned to trust God. At the end of the day, the person with whom I fell deepest in love is Jesus. When my heart got broken or my human loves let me down, I ran to the Adoration chapel, because Christ was always there. He reminded me time and again to seek His love first, and then He will lead me to the people, places, and delicious fried food that I desire so strongly. Those desires will never fill me the way He does, and that is something that I constantly forgot and had to re-learn throughout the last four years. Thankfully, He never tires of reminding me.
5. Existential questions like "who am I?" and "where am I going?"
Like any normal college student, I changed my major many times. Even within my major, I continuously changed my career goal, and I’m still not sure what I want to do. I’ve learned that it’s natural to feel hopeless and directionless, and to believe that everybody else knows exactly what they’re doing. Spoiler alert: They don’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good thing to slow down and reflect on the question: “Who do I want to be?” but don’t get discouraged if you don’t immediately form a clear answer. I remember that the community bathroom in my freshmen dorm was plastered with inspirational post-it notes. My favorite post-it note asked this very important question: “What would you do if you were not afraid?” That’s the question you should seek to answer. Remember that the big-picture goal is to be a saint. Now, the real life practicals of how you get there? Those you have some time to figure out. I was blessed to have an academic advisor who cared more the kind of person I’m going to be than the kind of job I’m going to have. College should teach you to critically think and develop a stronger commitment to personal values.
If you grew up watching Spongebob like I did, then you might remember the episode where Spongebob, Mr. Krabs, and Patrick go in search of treasure. Patrick infamously misunderstands Mr. Krabs when he says: “East,” and thinks that he says: “Weest,” as he hilariously mispronounces the word “West.” It’s a classic miscommunication. You’ll have 1000 miscommunications with your college friends and roommates, and my biggest advice is to ACTUALLY TALK ABOUT IT. Don’t leave passive aggressive notes on the refrigerator or send texts to avoid awkward conversations. Learning how to communicate effectively and appropriately is crucial for personal and professional life. Now, I also experienced a different kind of miscommunication, and this was between God and me. Don’t be discouraged if it feels like God is not really listening, or if it seems like He’s leading you somewhere you don’t want to go. The biggest lie I told myself in college was that God doesn’t actually desire my happiness. I promise you, He does. At times, it felt like God was saying: “No,” but He was really saying: “Just wait. I have something better for you. Trust me.”
7. Finding a home wherever you go
Perhaps the most difficult part of college was feeling like my heart was torn between two places. Even though I was surrounded by people, I was tempted to think that they didn’t really understand me, and that my true friends were at home. Yet, then I’d go home and realize that my old friends had grown in different directions than me, and soon I’d be longing to return to school. The truth is, the only person that fully understands me is God. He knows me better than I do, and the good thing is that He goes with me everywhere. My mistake was believing that home is a physical location, when it’s actually a spiritual dwelling place. They say home is where the heart is, so if my heart truly belongs to Christ, then I will always be home.
Throughout the last four years, I have definitely felt that unquenchable thirst for adventure, and I have tried to fill it in many ways: a scavenger hunt at Mall of America, a spontaneous trip to Colorado, and even studying abroad in Rome for a semester. All of those adventures were fun and exciting, but they were only temporary. The adrenaline would wear off, and the Instagram photos would slowly sink to the bottom of the feed. Pretty soon, I would be thirsting for adventure once again. The truth is, that thirst cannot be quenched by the wonders of this earth, because it is a thirst for something divine. It’s a thirst for Christ, because He first thirsted for us. Saint Mother Teresa reminds us: “Only the thirst of Jesus, feeling it, hearing, answering with all your heart will keep your love alive.” So if you’re a high school senior getting ready to start your college adventure, or really anyone who’s going through a transition, then I encourage you to continue forging your path towards Heaven. No matter where you go on your next adventure, make sure that you’re seeking to fill your thirst for Christ and His thirst for you. Not to knock on the lovely Belle, but your greatest adventure is not to be found in the “great wide somewhere.” It’s to be found in the heart of Jesus and in seeking to conform your heart to His.
Mary Kate Van Wagner | Camp Gray Staffer and Love Begins Here Core Team
If you are a parent, youth minister, or an adult that has a soon-to-be graduating teen in your life, check out Lindsay's blog about what to gift those graduates!