After graduation, there’s a lot of talk about “living in the real world”. I think this is really referring to the world of 9-5 jobs and professional attire. The world of going to bed at a reasonable hour. I understand these things may be different from the life one typically leads as a college student, but the references to post-college life equaling the real world leave us to infer that college, indeed, does not qualify as the real world. Now, there are some major differences in schedule and responsibility as a college student, as opposed to someone working a full-time job. Most college courses are set up so that only you will suffer if you decide not to show for class. In some cases, there is no accountability at all. Many college students don’t have anyone depending on them for anything, and you have more free-time and flexibility than pretty much everyone else. There are certainly some big differences between the two.
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I went to college alone. My mom helped me move in to my dorm room, but after that it was just me. Most of my friends from high school had gone off to Clemson. You would think when you go to school only an hour from your hometown, that surely there would be some built-in friends on campus. Of course, several people from my high school had also come to the wonderful University of South Carolina, but none of them were people I would spend time with.
On top of not knowing anyone, I’d spent my whole life being shy, and didn’t know how to introduce myself to anyone without the help of a more outgoing mediator. I’d spent all of high school with an “I can’t wait to get out of this town” attitude, only to flip the switch half-way through senior year, when it started to sink in that my time at West Florence was coming to an end. I was nervous all summer about leaving behind all I’d known, but it hit me like a ton of bricks when my mom drove off. I was scared, overwhelmed, and alone.
I did not feel like I was hidden away on some college campus, oblivious to the stresses of “real life”, real responsibility, real burdens. I didn’t feel like I had just landed myself in one four-year-long party. No. Sitting on the 4th floor of Patterson Hall in the heart of a city much bigger than the one I came from, away from the comforts of home and familiar faces, roads, places to shop and eat, I felt like I was in the real world for the first time in my life. Unprotected, exposed, on my own.
That first week was rough. I later realized I understood college to be the place where you meet the people who will be your best friends for the rest of your life. I somehow believed this would happen right away, that they would just happen to come introduce themselves to me the moment I arrived. I spent a good chunk of the first semester of my freshman year contemplating whether I should transfer back home, or to Clemson. Not that I was bored, I wasn’t. I managed to make some friends and spent most of my time with other people. I was still lonely, though. I was craving real, meaningful friendships. I didn’t know that it would take time, that it would get much, much better.
I spent the next 4 years meeting and getting to know a very diverse group of people. Rich, poor, homeless, gay, religious, depressed. I knew people who had been raped, abused, dealt with eating disorders, lost loved ones. The people I came to know during my time at South Carolina didn’t get to press pause on life. We didn’t get to ignore reality. Life still happens, no matter where you go to school, no matter whether your campus is on a hillside or in the city.
Despite what our culture would tell you, this is not the time to “get it out of your system” and do whatever the heck you want (unless whatever the heck you want is honoring to the Lord). These aren’t years that should be wasted, and these years aren’t just about your education. These years can be so full if you handle them well. College is a gift, a unique experience and time in your life. No other period in life will look the same.
For Christians, it may be tempting to jump into whatever community you find first (which can be good or bad). So many of my friends spent their first semester (or longer) making decisions they would go on to regret. And thankfully, grace was there to meet them then. But what if we recognized the importance of these years? What if we treated them as though they matter? Wouldn’t it be incredible if we used our college years for glorifying God and furthering His kingdom? These years will be a part of your life forever. You can fill them with whatever you want. But if there is one thing I learned in college and in the years since, it’s that living for the Lord is the best, most satisfying use of our time. How you spend your days matters, so let’s not let the world convince us that it’s okay if our lives look a little meaningless for a few years. This is special. Different? Yes. But, this is the real world, with real people, real souls. You can use this time in a million different ways, but there is true, full life in Christ, and using these years to seek Him, love Him, and live for Him will be one of the best decisions you ever make.
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39