Today’s college students face many challenges. I know. Two of my children are currently in college, and one of them graduated from college a year ago. Without aiming to be comprehensive, five of the major issues college students face, based on my unscientific survey of my children and some of their friends, are the following: (1) busyness and overcommitment; (2) sexual purity; (3) relationship anxiety; (4) lack of direction and uncertainty about the future; and (5) religious doubt and confusion.
Top 5 Issues College Students Face: Some Thoughts
While there are doubtless others who are more qualified to speak on this subject, as a dad, if nothing else, I care deeply for my children and others who try to remain true to their Lord and their faith while in college. As a dad, I suffer with them and do my best to help through prayer and occasional advice. I know it’s not easy to be a witness for Christ while you’re in college. If you’re still searching, you may experience areas of brokenness in your life, and maybe talking about some of those issues may be helpful in seeing a way forward.
- Busyness and Overcommitment
Most college students today are incredibly busy. What’s worse, many of you don’t even realize how busy you are. You’re valiantly trying to juggle all your many responsibilities, just like most of us are trying to do. Classes, assignments, extracurricular activities, socializing, Bible studies, internships, work, Study abroad, the list goes on and on. Most of the things you’re involved in may be good things, but often because of the frenetic pace of your lives, you find it hard to enjoy all that you’re doing, and at the end of the day you fall into bed, way too late, exhausted, only to repeat the cycle the next day, next week, and next month.
There’s no easy solution to busyness and overcommitment. The need is for you to discern your primary calling, and to prioritize, and streamline. This means learning to say no, which may hurt other people’s feelings, and is hard to do, because you really do want to take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way, in part out of zest and hunger for life, in part out of fear of missing out or of being excluded from your social network. Social media may further exacerbate this dilemma, not only because posting all those pictures takes time, but also because it often covers up deeper underlying issues, such as overcommitment or relational anxiety.
- Sexual Purity
College is not the best place to pursue sexual purity, but you must make this your utmost priority. In order to do so, you need to have a support system – a college ministry at your local church, a Christian campus ministry, a strong relationship with your parents, and siblings. If possible, make yourself accountable to a godly person of the same sex and, if possible, to your mom or dad. Paul told Timothy to pursue Christian virtues such as righteousness, faith, love, and peace “along with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart” (2 Tim 2:22).
The devil will try to entrap you in sexual sin, and once caught, it’ll be hard to extricate yourself. Generally, it’ll be good to focus on ministry, on your studies, and on part-time work or internships that’ll prepare you for your career. As you pursue your vocation, be open for God to bring someone special into your life as and when he chooses. I know some Christians say that as long as someone is a believer, the choice is up to you; go marry anyone you like. I, for my part, based on Scripture, believe in God’s providence in every area of life, including, and especially, in the area of dating and finding a spouse. And remember: “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Psalm 18:22).
- Relationship Anxiety
It’s hard to be patient and to wait on God and his perfect timing when those around you are getting engaged, and married, or involved in a series of relationships. But my advice is this: wait for God! Be patient! Don’t rush into a relationship, just out of anxiety, or to alleviate your loneliness. That’s not a sufficient basis, from God’s perspective, for a permanent, even lifelong, relationship. It’s understandable that we crave close relationships with others. We were made that way by God. But we shouldn’t rush things or proceed in our own strength. Proverbs 3:5-6 also applies to relationships: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
Are you willing to trust God in this crucial area of your life? Do you genuinely want to know His will? Or are you tempted to take matters in your own hand? That may be even more difficult if you’re a young woman who wants to wait for a godly young man to take the initiative. Pray for God’s will to be done, and for Him to be glorified in your relationships, and eventually, as God leads, in your marriage and family. You won’t ever regret waiting for the Lord and for His best for you. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and courageous. Wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). O taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8).
- Lack of Direction, Uncertainty about the Future
How do you know God’s will for your life? That’s a question I get asked from time to time. Once, when I desperately wanted to know God’s direction, I stayed up all night and intermittently prayed, and then met with a godly mentor in the early morning hours to study God’s Word and to pray. So how can you discern God’s will? First of all, do you want to know God’s will? My experience has been that usually the problem is NOT that God is reluctant to reveal himself to us but that we’re not prepared to do His will which he has already revealed! So search your heart and tell God that you’re ready to do whatever He may ask you to do.
Chances are, he wants you to excel in what you’re doing right now. As Jesus said, “Be faithful in little things.” Bloom where you’re planted. And seek holiness, and purity, and integrity in dealing with others. Focus on character. Also, ask yourself: What are my strengths? What is distinctive and unique about the way God made me? He’s given you certain natural and spiritual gifts and abilities that he wants you to use for His glory. Capitalize on your strengths. If you’re not sure what they are, ask those who know you well, people in your family, your friends, or people in your church. If you need more tips, read my book Excellence!
- Religious Doubt and Confusion
It’s normal for highly intelligent young college students to explore challenges to the faith intelligently and with an open mind. It’s even normal for our finite minds to struggle with unanswered questions, and even doubt. In the Bible, we see how the apostle Thomas adopted a critical, even skeptical, stance toward the question of whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead. In John’s Gospel chapter 20, we read that Jesus appeared to him, and to the other disciples, and challenged him to believe and to stop doubting. Thomas responded with worship and an acknowledgment of Christ’s lordship and deity.
My colleagues Darrell Bock and Josh Chatraw and I have recently teamed up to write two books you might find helpful as you confront some of the tough questions regarding the faith: Truth Matters; and Truth in a Culture of Doubt. The former book is a great introduction to some of those issues (such as: Why does God allow human suffering?). The latter book is a more extensive exploration of these issues in greater depth. All 3 of us have Ph.D.s and have wrestled with many of the same questions you’re dealing with. We want you to know that you can trust the Bible and that there are intellectually satisfying answers to the questions you’re asking.
Don’t let your unbelieving or critical, or even skeptical college professors or classmates be the only voices in your life as you seek to address challenging questions. Often, they only tell you one side of the story. Make sure you explore both, or all, sides of a given issue before making up your mind. You may have grown up in a Christian family and never thought to question your faith. Then, something your professor says in class may rattle you or even shake your faith. Like Job in OT times, you may never know why God allows certain events to occur in your life, but you can know that God is sovereign and that his purposes are ultimately good (Romans 8:28).