- Life Lessons in College: New Life
- It’s Great, It’s Awful—Does Any Of It Make Sense?
A while ago I began a tale of my experiences in college, where I learned that life is great and life is awful, and does any of it make sense? I was living out a dream, but I almost died, too, and I was diagnosed with a serious chronic disease, just a week after my eighteenth birthday. It turned out to be a literal pain in the gut every day, and I was the only college student I knew who needed nine hours of sleep each night. That was on the good days. Most days were like that, but there were exceptions.
But as I recall it from all these years later, my health wasn’t my biggest concern even then (except on the really bad days, most of which came after the period I’m relating here). I was trying to make my way through new friendships, new experiences, and new questions about myself. I had questions, as I wrote last time, about my new freedoms, and about how I would make decisions with no one looking over my shoulder. It wasn’t just a philosophical question. I also had to deal with the fact that I wasn’t who I thought I should be. That “should be” came from my upbringing, as far as I knew. The problem was that I wasn’t really in control. I believe it would have happened the same way no matter what the “should be” might have been. I didn’t live up to my own ethical standards. It bugged me. I thought I was in charge of myself, but I really wasn’t
So here I was wondering about how to live life, how to make decisions, and how to be the person I thought I should be.
Into that mix came a couple of friends, fellow musicians who lived on my dorm floor, who were just great guys to be with. They had a sense of freedom about them that was different than the kind of freedom I’d been thinking about. It was just an easy way of living life.
That caught my attention. Did I mention how competitive and cutthroat a music school can be? It’s weird. You make great friends in an ensemble, but there’s also a whole lot of maneuvering going on, as everyone wants to climb up to the next level (the next “chair” in large ensembles) by out-competing their friends. Musicians are by definition a talented lot of people. You’d think we’d be content with that: but we’re always comparing. It leads to a jumbled mix of arrogance and self-doubt, and a good bit of posturing.
That’s epidemic among musicians, but I wouldn’t dare say it’s universal. My two friends were some of the exceptions. They weren’t posing; they were real, they were fun to hang around with. They were both top leaders in the music department, but they didn’t wear that out on display. So I got to know them, and I found out they were Christians. They shared with me reasons to believe in Christ, and before long I had made my own decision to follow Christ.
I could tell you about the difference that made in my life, especially the freedom it gave me to be me without fighting myself, the great burden lifted by knowing that God had paid the penalty for my failures to do right, and the new-found ability he gave me actually to do more right—especially to begin to learn what it meant genuinely to love others people, and not just my music.
I could tell you these things. I could tell you about the Josh McDowell book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, that helped convince me Christianity was true. It started me on the path I’m still following: studying and communicating how we can be confident Christianity is true, and what that means in our private and public lives.
I could even tell you with all genuineness how a sense of lightness was poured into me along with the freedom I’ve already mentioned. At high risk of committing a cliché, which I can only defend against by insisting it’s the truth, the grass was greener and the sky was bluer the next morning. Something like cataracts had been lifted off my soul.
Almost a year after my decision to follow Christ, I had a frightening emergency with my Crohn’s disease. That year I was rooming with one of the two friends who had led me to faith in Christ. He had his car in the near parking lot, so he drove me to the hospital. The ER doctor said I would have to be admitted. I looked at my roommate and said, “Hey, John, could you bring me my Bible?” The doctor got a horrified look on her face: “Oh, no!” she exclaimed, “you’re not going to die!” John and I still laugh about this. The Bible isn’t for dying, it’s for living, and believe me, for one who knows Christ it’s genuinely full of life.
I could tell you all these things, and actually now I have mentioned them, and it is all true. That sense of joy was confirmation to me that Christ was real, not just in history but in the here-and-now.
What I really want to say, though, is that there was something going on then that I had no real clue of at the time. In retrospect I can see God was laying for me a groundwork for the way I think about Christian truth today. I’ll save that for next time.