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Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.
- Proverbs 3:5-8
These Bible verses were repeated quite frequently by my childhood preacher. To explain it in very few words, I was raised in a traditional, religious household. Every Sunday we would attend morning and evening worship service, and every Wednesday we were back at church for the mid-week service. I began reading the Bible independently when I was 13, and I was baptized when I was 14. There was never any question that there was a God or that Jesus was his son, but after my first year of college, things started to change.
I was a meeting a lot of new people and learning a lot of new things; my worldview was getting larger, and it slowly began to rock my faith. The best word I can use to describe how I felt at that time is “confused.” I had lived my entire life in a black and white world, but college introduced me to the shade of grey (pardon the unintentional pun) and, hence, a world of doubt.
During my freshman year, I attended church every Sunday, but by the beginning of the second semester of my sophomore year, I had decided that I no longer wanted to be associated with organized religion. I hadn’t denounced my faith; I simply felt that I no longer shared the same thoughts and feelings as the other members of my church. It wasn’t clear to me at first, but my decision to stop attending church was inspired by the desire to reanalyze my faith in God and Christianity. It was the beginning of a journey that ended in enlightenment.
Although this journey was slow coming, I believe it was guided by God, who wanted me to learn what it really meant to have a relationship with him. I was breaking away from my childhood view of religion and moving towards a more spiritually-guided view. Instead of interpreting Christianity as a life full of rules and constant repentance, I began to think more about the meaning of Jesus’ death and his gospel. The three words that kept coming back to me were faith, hope, and love, especially love.
I think most of my doubt sprang from the fact that many of my good college friends did things that, according to my Christian faith, were sinful, but they were not bad people. In fact, they were honest, caring, humble, wonderful people. I just couldn’t grasp how a loving God could send one of my friends to eternal damnation if they were to die before repenting for their life mistakes, and I struggled with the fact that many churches believed that humans could be perfect and sinless by shunning all things worldly. It just didn’t make any sense to me.
I didn’t know if it was right, but I justified my friendship through the commandment of not judging others. Strangely, I had always been aware of this commandment, but my church’s strict adherence to a life free of sin made it nearly impossible not to judge others (and nearly impossible to make new friends). After all, no human is perfect or ever completely free from sin. I knew that my friends were good people at heart who happened to occasionally make mistakes, and I refused to let my fear of sin keep me from being a good friend. This was an aha moment for me; all of a sudden I finally understood the importance of being nonjudgmental, and it brought me full circle.
I went from believing that no one could go to heaven if they didn’t go to church to doubting organized religion completely to realizing how wrong it is to think there’s only one way to know God. In the middle of my journey, I remembered the Bible verse from my childhood: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. That’s when I knew that God didn’t expect me to know everything, he only expected me to trust him and remove all doubt.
Remembering this verse, a huge weight was instantly lifted off my shoulders. The doubt eventually disappeared. I didn’t have to be perfect; I didn’t have to know the Bible word for word; I didn’t have to agree with my friends and family. All I had to do was trust God with everything, follow Jesus’ example of pure love for every soul, and turn to God always for guidance.
You may be a college student (or even an adult) who is struggling with the exact same thing I did. I’m a perfect example that it is not something you should fear, but it’s also something you shouldn’t ignore. Pray and ask God to help you find your path to enlightenment. Remove all preconceived notions of what it means to be a child of God and start fresh. Find opportunities to exercise the basic tenets of your faith. You will discover your reverence for God all over again, and it will be stronger than ever.
Jessica McMann is a freelance education writer and teacher. Through her writing, Jessica tries to help Christians stay strong in their faith while finding success in the secular world. While her work has been published on a variety of platforms, much of her writing is done for Christian education websites.