While it is an incredibly strategic season, the college context also has some interesting challenges. One of the most significant is in the area of identity. The idea of “finding oneself” has become cliché and fodder for jokes. But for students moving toward independence and exploring their faith, identity is a huge obstacle.
When college students are constantly compared to peers and trained to worship the opportunity that success affords, deriving their identity and sense of worth from grades, opinions of friends (or parents or professors), and the items on their resumé is inevitable. The problem is that those things will never be able to endure the weight of our hope, and they were never meant to. As long as we look to others as a barometer of our value, and as long as we need them to esteem us, we can never love them well.
However, the gospel challenges our search for identity with the following truths:
1) We were created in the image of the creator of the universe with strength and beauty and value and awe.
2) As a part of humanity, we were given work to do (before the Fall) and that continues today.
3) After the Fall we were not abandoned, but a great sacrifice was made to restore us to fellowship. The Judge before whom we stood guilty has paid our penalty.
Once those three truths are engrained deeply in our hearts and we begin to live in light of them, we are free to see ourselves accurately and love others the way Jesus does. Practically that means:
- Rather than needing others to validate us, we can receive encouragement and criticism gracefully without being enslaved to others' opinions. We can also speak genuine truth in love with their best in mind as we point them to Jesus.
- Because we recognize our greater calling to be a cultivator, nurturer, and steward of creation (humanity’s pre-Fall calling) as well as a part of restoring brokenness in all of its forms (post-Fall calling), we are not worried about the “perfect” major, the “perfect” job, or the “perfect” spouse. We can see how God has gifted us and are free to love and serve out of gratitude and stewardship rather than fear or obligation.
Ultimately, I get to love unselfishly because I have been loved that way. If you know the movie Annie, I feel very much like Sandy, Annie’s nasty long-haired, matted, dirty, ungroomed sheep dog, who stumbles into Daddy Warbuck's mansion with nothing to offer and is accepted! Jesus emptied himself of everything to redeem me. And I owe/d a debt that is impossible to atone for on my own. I am the recipient of unbelievable love, generosity, and grace. He both paid and is paying my debt (Phil 2:5-8). Since what I have I did not earn, I am free to be generous and love others sacrificially.