I’d like to welcome new students to college. Many of you have experienced your first syllabus this month. Boxes are filling your dorm rooms, text books are being flown to you from all over the country, and you are experiencing your first college lecture. You have left some good friends, or perhaps they have left you, and you are being thrown into a new environment full of different faces and confusing places. As romantic as beginning college may have seemed, it is most likely not a peaceful experience.
Many freshmen, transfers, or even current students question whether they are supposed to be studying their particular college or university. This wonder comes from the anxiety a place may bring about in their hearts. I know many freshmen who are wary of beginning school in a large secular university and I can’t blame them. I started my college career at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln (UNL). Despite its solid Newman Center, I was still thrust into a world where my neighbors were living morally relativistic, loose lives, and it was advertised everywhere I went. This, I thought, could not be the right place for me. Our first reaction to such a situation is to flee. Some of you who are in this situation are already making plans to transfer. I must beg you to stop!
Others are beginning school at a small college. There may be a smaller amount of students enrolled there than at a large high school. This can be scary as well. I began to thrive on a big campus. Therefore, when I found myself wandering around a school where everyone knew my name it seemed terribly uncomfortable. Perhaps, you are yearning to join your friends at the nearest state university, wishing to get out of the small town atmosphere God has placed you in. Again, I implore you to reconsider!
You see, God places us where he wants us. I am not saying that one should never transfer. (It is sometimes necessary if you cannot find a Catholic support system of any kind after taking sufficient time to look.) However, I do believe that we must take time to discern why God has placed us where we are. When I asked myself that question recently as I returned to Benedictine College, I immediately began to think about how God would work through me. This is a good thing to consider, but it should not be our first meditation. We must first believe that God places us in our proper furnace. At present, Benedictine is set at the exact right temperature for me. If I choose to remain here I can be more easily shaped into the person God wants me to be. And, ultimately, this means I will be the happiest here.
I do not want to suggest that college means four years in the same oven. For some, like me, it doesn’t. However, while we are at a certain place, whether it be at home, on a campus, or abroad, we must trust that it is a good place for us.
Despite my initial mistrust of God’s plan for me at UNL, I soon fell in love with the place. The spiritual war occupying every corner motivated me to build up my armor. The fellow soldiers I met there will be lifelong inspirations. My nightly walks down sorority row to my fortress, the Newman Center, were experiences I needed on my road to salvation. I gained an understanding and compassionate love for my neighbors.
Though I left the University to pursue a degree in philosophy at Benedictine College, I still thank God for my time there. In hindsight, realize that each time I found myself in an awkward or stressful situation it was because God was loving me through my environment in a way I could not understand. Now, when I feel uncomfortable in my environment, or even, at times, wish I was back at UNL, I remember to trust in God’s plan for my sanctification and say nearly a hundred times a day: "Jesus, thank you for loving me in this way."
Here are some times I’ve had to say that prayer this week:
When every syllabus I’ve received has terrified me. "Jesus, thank you for loving me in this way."
When I discovered I now don’t get cell phone reception in Atchison, Kansas, where I go to school. "Jesus, thank you for loving me in this way."
When my dorm room was as cold as a late fall football game. "Jesus, thank you for loving me in this way."
When my twin sister moved in with our two best friends, and I moved three hours away. "Jesus, thank you for loving me in this way."
When I wrestled a pig and nearly lost. "Jesus, thank you for loving me in this way."
I share these with you to let you know we all experience uncomfortable things in college. Know that they are much easier to overcome if we understand why we are experiencing them: because we are loved.