Student Series: Holding Onto Hope In College When It is Hard
This article is part of Rooted’s 2019 student series, where young Christians share their experiences of faith in high school and college. Rebecca Hatton is a rising senior at the University of Arkansas.
On a warm May evening in 2016, eleven of my best friends and I celebrated completing high school with a graduation party in the lush green of a friend’s backyard. There were tacos, toasts, tears from laughter, and an abundance of joy as we celebrated these friendships and the excitement of the next chapter. Throughout the night, adults and older friends kept sharing with me that, “college will be the best four years of your life!” I was constantly reminded by everyone how fun college would be, how I would meet my future bridesmaids, and how I would thrive. That evening I hung tightly to each one of those words, because holding onto the hope of “the best four years” was kinder and easier to think on than facing the sadness of leaving my friends, moving out of state, and starting a new chapter. I was overwhelmed with excitement of something new but flooded with anxiety …for something new.
What nobody told me is that college would actually be the hardest years of my life. So what happens when expectations and hype turn to mourning and depression? Nobody told me how unfulfilling the party scene would be. Nobody told me how empty I would feel. Nobody knew I would walk through dark days of an eating disorder, depression, anxiety attacks, assault, or suicidal thoughts. Nobody told me that there would be lonely days, days where friends would disappear. Nobody told me that through all of those things, I would walk through each one almost completely alone. I spent my freshman and sophomore years lonely and running to alcohol, boys, approval or affirmation from anyone, while also trying to keep up a perfect social media presence. None of those were meant to hold my sorrow, hurt, or anxieties. These things sure couldn’t give me the hope I craved. The one place that actually could handle all of that and give me hope was what I was running from.
I was empty. I was beaten down. I was at the end of my rope, believing the lies that I was not good enough, too messed up, and unwanted. Satan’s voice was a loud shrill, a throbbing pain pounding in my head. His lies swirled around in my head like an Oklahoma tornado, bringing destruction and tearing down any truth I had left. Satan said that I should end it all because nobody would miss me. I was alone and I was hopeless.
But Jesus said, “Rebecca, I am here. I have not left you.”
During my junior year, I finally began to believe that He truly had not left me. He brought me friends that pointed me back to him; He opened my eyes to see His goodness, cleaned out my ears to hear His truth, and softened my heart towards His love through His sacrifice for me.
Over Thanksgiving break of junior year, I went to Israel with my family. It is there where all the things I had been learning and growing in came to a head. Standing in the Garden of Gethsemane, I wept. I saw olive trees that were over 2,000 years old, which means those trees stood when Jesus knelt and pleaded for the cup to pass from Him. Those trees felt the still silence of heaven closing as God turned His back on His own son. Those trees had drops of sweat in the form of blood drop on them by the very man who would hang the next morning on a tree for me. It became real to me. His love, the sacrifice, the Cross. All of it.
Touching the branches in the garden brought the Bible to life. In that moment, I felt the love of Jesus surge through my body like electricity because I could visualize Him, as a man, trembling with anxiety for what the morning would bring and knowing what He was getting by choosing me. Jesus came to earth to experience every single thing I ever could just so He could identify with me. He was tempted in every way, yet never sinned because He knew that one day, I would be born, and I would sin in all the ways He never did. He was perfect for me, then saw God’s back so I never would have to. He wept over my sin, yet He bore it because there was no other way to get me. Jesus died on the cross so that I could gain eternity with Him. Then He rose from the grave so that death was defeated. The power of Satan does not prevail. Because of His life, death, and resurrection, we have hope, a lasting hope that only a savior can bring. Each new morning brings new mercies because He Is Good.
Since realizing that He is my only hope because He loves me and will not leave me, my life has changed. I still sin. Every day. But I have the strongest desire within me to tell everyone about His love, and His rich mercies. I went to college to study psychology to then go on to graduate school, but now I am exploring options for mission work in Central Asia because I want to offer hope to the masses of people groups there who face oppression, people who lack hope. Refugees who need to hear about the one true refuge. I can’t explain it, other than His grace alone, that He does not let go of me when I run. He captured my heart to experience His majesty. I have hope in Jesus that I get to cling to because He calls me His.
We live in the in-between times. Christ has come to save the world, but He has not yet come to make it new. Which means life is still hard. We still face trials. We still experience pain. People still die. Cancer still exists. Racism is present. Sin is still present in this world.
But because He promises His return, when I see oppression, division over politics or beliefs, or natural disasters, I must cling to Jesus. When I watch friends slip into sinful patterns that I cannot fix, I must cling to Jesus. When I am tempted, when I sin, when I am burdened by shame, I must cling to Jesus. He is our only hope. This world is fallen. It is sinful. But, He WILL come again and because of that truth, we have hope that ALL will one day be restored, justice will prevail, and there will be no more sin.
Where are you placing your hope? Is it in your accomplishments, future plans, another person or thing? Or is your hope in the savior of the world who came for you and who will come again to make all things new?