Your student has launched full speed ahead into college courses but is that the same as being prepared for a college experience? Your commuter student is taking the responsibility for their own transportation and schedule, perhaps for the first time. Your new freshman is away from home without your supervision. But whether yours is an oldest off-to-college for the first time or the last one out of the nest, you may be concerned about whether your student is ready to make a successful transition. Perhaps the more critical question is whether your student is ready to make independent decisions that affirm, rather than compromise, their faith and values. Are they ready to stay focused and stand firm?
Growth in responsibility is inherent in a college experience. In simple terms--our students GET TO make choices. If their choice is to look for community, they will likely find rich relationships. If their choice is to look for academic support, they will likely find themselves becoming good self-advocates that use campus resources. However, if they choose to aim at a “C,” finding an “A” on their transcript is pretty unlikely. If their choice is to look for trouble, they will find that, too.
Your support professionals at Northwestern will tell you that students are nearly always well intentioned. It is more likely that the choices they don’t deliberately make that catch them up short. They may imagine themselves in a great church community but don’t take the initiative to find one. If they don’t decide in advance on boundaries with sexuality, it is far easier to fall into sin when they meet a special someone. On the other hand, if they are actively looking for opportunities for spiritual growth, they will find plenty of choices at Northwestern. If they are deliberately building authentic relationships with clear boundaries, they exponentially increase their hold on purity.
It’s all about intentionality. What we see and aim for is determined by our lens on the world. I’m sure you have experienced how this works. If we choose to build a new deck, all of a sudden, every deck in the neighborhood becomes a design idea. If we are feeling convicted about growing in generosity, new ministries and non-profits grab our attention. If we are planning a wedding, we start paying attention to good ideas and asking for advice on venues and decorating. I know this to be true. My deck is in disrepair, I’m feeling a call to generosity, and my daughter is getting married on Saturday!
I have, at times, posted a leading question on my bathroom mirror to help focus my lens for the day. When I was fighting discouragement and wanted to keep my eyes on the positives, the question was, “Lord, where is my encouragement today?” In a period of overwhelm, the key question, “Lord, what do you want me to focus on first today?” helped me move ahead. When I wanted to zero in on gains instead of losses, it was the question, “Lord, help me watch for a victory today.” II Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. The Lord knows that unless we train our minds on things that are true, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), we are likely to get distracted by less honorable choices.
The good news is that we are still a primary influence in our students’ lives. While we encourage them to make independent choices, we can also help them train their minds (and perhaps our own) on the right things by asking positive questions. Since what’s in focus still includes us, setting a good example is still key. And of course…keep praying.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS about relationships, course load, and spiritual growth. As they navigate new territory, we can help them look for the best in others, manage their schedule, and keep God first by asking thoughtful questions. Here are some ideas:
- What do you like best about your roommates? What’s working to help you get to know more about them?
- Tell me about the things you found most engaging in class this week? What are the challenges and what resources on campus are you accessing?
- What is your plan for Sundays? Out of all the opportunities on campus, what seems to be the place you’ll find the most spiritual growth and authentic accountability?
SET THE RIGHT EXAMPLE. We can’t expect the apple to fall far from the tree. When your spiritual life is rich, sharing about it becomes a direct encouragement for your son/daughter to do the same. They learn a lot about standing firm from what they see in our lives.
- If you read a devotional online, or listen to messages online or encouraging podcasts and one seems appropriate, forward it with a “This made me think of you today.”
- Text a quick prayer you are offering for them that doesn’t need a reply.
- When they are home, keep attending church. Skipping sends a message that relates to classes as well as services.
KEEP PRAYING. Just like we need to choose our perspective, we also need to choose to “armor up.” God gives us equipment for the battle but we have to use it for it to be effective. When our kids were small, we helped them get dressed for the day. We can still help pray their covering into place. Ephesians 6 is all about standing firm. If we want them to continue making good choices, establish intentional goals for spiritual growth and community, we need to cover them in prayer.
Your student is spending more time away from you but they are never out of reach of your influence or your prayers. Can we stay focused while we encourage them to hold fast to theirs? If my student is in transition, then I am in transition, too. I think it is time for another prompt on my bathroom mirror like, “Lord, help me stand firm on You today so I can be an encouragement to my son and daughter to stay strong, too.”