By Kimberly Miller
Have you ever seen this object lesson demonstrated? One person stands on a chair, and another person stands on the floor right next to the chair. Then the two join hands and start to tug. The person in the chair tries to pull the other up. The person on the floor tries to pull the other down. The lesson? It is much easier to pull a person down than it is to pull someone up. When I went away to college, I wanted to be the person in the chair, pulling up my friends. I wanted to be, but I found that maybe I wasn’t strong enough. (Maybe hardly anyone is.) It isn’t like I hadn’t been warned though. I knew this object lesson; I knew the scriptures and my spiritual gifts; I thought I knew my weaknesses. I was a good girl. My parents and I were close. I trusted their guidance and wisdom. I was strong in my faith, sure of my convictions and trusting in God. What I underestimated was how easily a person falls off of a chair, and how hard it is to get back up.
I wasn’t popular in high school and didn’t date much. Sure, some boys liked me, but I was teased and ridiculed to the point that I had very little confidence that anyone would ever fall in love with me. In college, I wanted to prove the bullies wrong. I wanted to show them that yes, I am likeable, boys do like me, I am pretty enough and smart enough and funny enough and sweet enough. I just wanted everyone to know that I was enough! I spent so much energy on impressing people by being enough that I forgot to be altogether virtuous or honest with myself.
I let my aspirations of popularity compromise my values. This is really hard for me to write about! Even though that was a long time ago, the feelings are still fresh. I still feel shame for my behavior. I let my drive for the approval of guys control me – instead of seeking God’s approval. How foolish!
If I had it to do over again, I would seek out girl friends and make them my priority. Boys are fine, and they can be great friends, but friendships with girls should be more important.
Even more important than gender, though, are friends who help keep you on the chair. I had (mostly male) friends that messed with my head. Their theological beliefs were vastly different than mine, and I just wanted to share salvation with them. Honestly, my intentions were good. But in my desperation for friends, I compromised some of my values. It isn’t like I became a totally different person (at least not overnight), but I did learn to fit in. Take note: well-behaved Christian girls generally don’t fit in. Although my friends influenced me, it wasn’t in any way their fault that I descended to a dark place of doubt and disbelief. It is completely my fault for letting it happen.
You can’t really compromise your values without first re-evaluating them and then deciding that some are less important than others, and that’s exactly what I did. My friends challenged my beliefs. Even though I tried to also challenge theirs, their questions made me re-evaluate mine. Somewhere along the way, the clear line between right and wrong was blurred for me.
We have been taught that behavior reflects beliefs, but I think it can sometimes go the other way. Sometimes, we adjust our beliefs based on how we want to behave. See, it’s a backdoor strategy for Satan. If we won’t walk in the front door of his “church,” espousing ungodly beliefs, he’ll gladly let us in the back door where we can experience sinful behavior before we buy in. My behavior became questionable, and then I questioned my beliefs. Then my behavior became flat-out wrong, and my beliefs again followed suit.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t be humble and open-minded, because more than likely, at least one of our beliefs should be adjusted. But we must have a Biblically-based set of core values to which we hold firm:
He created the whole world from scratch.
God is perfect.
The Bible is perfect.
Jesus is the Son of God.
Heaven and hell are real. Judgment will happen someday.
The only way to heaven is by believing in Jesus as the Son of God.
What we do on Earth matters.
Our sin will feel awful later.
Don’t ever question these! There will always be discussions and disagreements about doctrine and disputable matters – resist the temptation to get bogged down in those. Our core values, however, must be wrapped all around us every second of every day. Questioning them can lead to an inescapable mental quagmire. I began to question my core values and it led me to a dark, dark place. I lost my assurance of the previous 18+ years. I wanted it all to be true… I think. Didn’t I? Without those core beliefs, nothing in life matters. Doubt led to desperation and a lowest point, which I remember vividly.
I was lying in bed at about four in the morning. My behavior of the previous day and months was something I’ll never recount. I had a final exam later that day, but I couldn’t sleep. I felt dirty because of my sin, but confused because I didn’t even know if sin was real, since maybe God wasn’t. I closed my eyes, feeling so much pain inside; and silently crying to the sky, I said, “God, I don’t know if You’re there, or if You can hear me, but if You are, please find me. Please find me and save me from this hell. Please, I can’t be lost anymore.”
Have you read the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis? My prayer reflected the mindset of Puddleglum when he spoke to the Witch-Queen of Underland: “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and [God] himself… Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.”
If God was real, I didn’t want to wish He wasn’t anymore. Even if sin is theoretically fun, it’s so not worth it! But if He wasn’t real, then nothing would change and I was stuck in this hell either way.
My return to God was not immediate. It takes time for a lost little girl who has wondered from home to be led back again. And a broken heart takes time to heal, but God healed me in a way that only He can. We can’t find our own way home and we can’t heal ourselves. Only God can restore us!
If you’re lost, you can ask for help. In fact, it’s what God is waiting for. He wants you to cry out to Him. See how this works itself out in four different scenarios, one of which probably describes you, in Psalm 107. The amazing grace that saved a wretch like me can find you too. There is no amount of lost or darkness in which God can’t find you. Don’t try to prove me wrong, but do know that however lost you think you are, and no matter how dark and bleak are your thoughts, there is hope for even you. God can pull you back up on that chair.
While you’re packing your bags, be sure to get ready to leave home spiritually too.
Moving away from home – to college or out on your own – is, in a way, like being a zoo animal on the loose. You’ve had a cage of your parent’s protection around you all your life and without it, the world is a great adventure seemingly without limitations. As exciting as this may seem, you’ve got to fill in the blanks with new boundaries. Decide on what your new boundaries will be long before you get to college. I don’t just mean physical boundaries with the opposite sex; there are emotional and lifestyle boundaries, too.
Here are some limitations to consider:
How late is too late for guys to come over?
What topics are too personal for you to talk about with a guy?
How casually dressed will you allow yourself to be when boys come over?
How often will they come over?
Will your dorm room door remain open or closed?
Can guys come into your room at all or should they meet you in common areas?
If your dorm is co-ed, will you wear pajamas in the hallways?
Will you live in a co-ed dorm?
Here are some scenarios to think through. Figure them out now, because these questions will undoubtedly come up.
If a boy thinks you’re silly because you won’t let him into your room unless your roommate is there, is he really the kind of boy you want to be around?
If your roommate refuses to kick her boyfriend out by a certain hour at night, do you want to keep this roommate?
What if your roommate drinks?
Will you drink socially, even if you don’t get drunk?
Are parties OK as long as you don’t drink?
It’s important to know how you want to respond in these situations and then don’t compromise your decisions. As for the answers to these questions, read the scriptures and seek the counsel of parents, your pastor and other young adults who made it through the college gauntlet unscathed.