Student Series: Holding onto Faith in College
This article is part of Rooted’s 2019 student series, where young Christians share their experiences of faith in high school and college. Sarah Hydinger is a rising sophomore at the University of Alabama.
To say I have deep hometown roots would be an understatement. I grew up with extreme security—feeling known, loved, and supported by a strong, faith-based community. By the time I reached high school, I was involved in many clubs, community organizations, and committees. Not realizing it at the time, I crowded my schedule with busyness that eventually ran me ragged. I wanted to feel purposeful, and having idle hands was not something that I was comfortable with. Who was I if I wasn’t involved?
Graduation in May 2018 quickly ran into early August. A new life in a college town officially began. My freshman year started out starry-eyed and full of high, hopeful expectations. I’m going to get involved just like I did in high school; I’m going to make a solid group of friends almost immediately; I will be perfectly known by this new community; I will have the best stories and the best friends to talk about when I go back home; I’m going to “thrive.” When these expectations were not met, my identity spiraled.
As soon as I moved into my shoebox of a dorm room, I felt stripped of everything and almost everyone that was familiar and brought me comfort. I was more overwhelmed than I ever imagined. I remember standing in rooms full of people, feeling like I was completely alone and unknown after hours of conversation. I tried to connect and put myself out there in every way I knew, but in my eyes, it was not working. I didn’t feel like my freshman year was tracking in comparison to my other friends. I wasn’t having the best year of my life like those before me said I would. I was not making multitudes of the best friends in the whole world. I wasn’t “thriving.” I was struggling often, feeling lonely, and out of place. I was praying tearful prayers, frequently asking: Lord, what on earth am I doing here?
Leaving no room for God to respond to my questioning, I scrambled and decided the only way to make solid community and have a good college experience was to get involved. That was what high school history proved. Thus began the idolization of my desire to serve a purpose and be known. I applied for organization after organization—getting accepted by some, rejected by others. In hindsight, I am grateful for the Lord’s protection from me getting haphazardly involved in programs I was not passionate about, but in those moments, I was extremely wounded. I was not used to rejection, and I could not understand why my performance in interviews or on applications was not good enough. Why was nothing working out? My identity was shaken time and time again. My confidence was not solid, and I became more insecure—comparing myself and my life to others my age.
Throughout my frenzy, I would catch myself remembering truths that were taught to me by my parents, youth ministers, and mentors earlier in my life: Sarah, remember God’s Gospel of grace. Remember that comparison is the thief of the joy that the Lord freely gives. Remember that God’s plans are greater than yours. Remember where your identity really belongs. Why was that hard to grasp sometimes?
During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the crowds about two men. One lived in a house built upon sand and another in a house built upon rock. Christ explains the importance of living a life with a firm foundation, living upon the rock: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV).
This was the exact reminder I needed. In the midst of the madness that was my freshman year, I needed to put scriptural truths into daily, sometimes hourly, practice to combat the lies and insecurities that shook me. I needed to live upon the rock of Christ’s Word rather than the foundation of sand that is the word of the world.
I realized that before college, I was surrounded by support systems that made it easy for me to trust in these truths. In addition to that, I was comfortable and secure; life was going, for the most part, according to plan. Of course the Lord is good! Especially because my life is good. It wasn’t until I was deprived of those comforts that I really understood the importance of relying on my bedrock: the Gospel of Christ. I knew in my heart that because Jesus died on the cross for sinners, I am set free. Not only am I free from sin and shame, but I am free from living a life based on performance and involvement. I am free from comparison and the lies of the world that tell me I will not succeed in college unless my schedule is full and I am known by many. Jesus has overcome the world! (John 16:33). No matter what my circumstance, my identity should rest alone in Him and His truth.
This past year was not always easy, but I look back with a grateful heart as I see the places where the Lord provided new friendships and opportunities to grow more than I ever thought possible. I see the Lord’s faithfulness in the struggle as He taught me to place my worth in Him. I look forward with hopeful expectation to what the Lord will bring in the next year, and no matter what challenges I may face, I know I can fully rest in the truth of the Gospel and trust the Lord is equipping me for what lies ahead.