First Time on Your Own

When I talk with older, seemingly wiser people, I usually get around to asking two main questions. First, do they have any advice for someone like me? And second, do they have any regrets in life?

I get better answers from the second question.

So I’ll turn that question back on myself, not that I’m that much wiser, though I am that much older.

When I went to college, I moved from rainy Seattle to muggy Boston. It was the first time I was on my own, and I was excited about being in a new place with others who wanted the same kind of adventure and intensity that I was looking for. And it was fun having lobster for the first time, trying out incredible clam “chowdah,” and standing in places I had only read about in American history books.

Then, after the first flush of excitement wore away and the studies started to grind at me, there were hints of homesickness, unmet expectations and the bitter cold of a New England winter. 

Looking back, I do have some regrets about how I started off my life in college. So now, I hope I’ve learned a thing or two, and I hope to send you off to college wiser than I went. Keep these things in mind as you start life on your own:

  1. Seek God. I know. This one seems so obvious, but in the rush of seeking everything else you are being offered — a new life, a new community, a new club, a new team, a new activity, a new crush, so many new things to do — that you set your mind to take the time to pray and listen to God, and seek his will for you in college. Like the dog in the movie, Up, I get distracted quite easily — “Squirrel!” I had let God play second fiddle to my new interests. So make sure to keep God as a priority, even as you study and play. “Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). 
  2. Connect in Christian community. Though I went to church services during my first semester, I didn’t join a campus fellowship until after winter break. So I didn’t have people who knew me spiritually, prayed for me, asked me how I was doing with Jesus. Though I saw people every Sunday, I didn’t have friends who would help me follow Jesus in a very secularized place. And after a few weeks, I lived in a fraternity that had no other Christians, I was dating a sorority woman who didn’t know Jesus, and my closest friends weren’t Christian. All of this contributed to my spiritual life taking a huge tumble. Faith can’t be done alone. So, although it’s great to have friends from all walks of life, make sure that you are connecting deeply with friends who also know and follow Jesus. “And let us consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
  3. Be on Christian mission. After I gave my life back to Jesus, I began reaching out to my fraternity brothers my second year. People started giving their lives to Jesus, and by the time I was a senior, a third of the house were believers. Twenty-one years later, that Bible study still goes on, helping people find Jesus and encouraging believers to change the world. It is redemptive in many ways. Still, I wish I had connected earlier. There were many days in college when I wished I had that first year back, so that more people could get to know Jesus. Yes, God is fully in control, but I missed out on the privilege of being on God’s mission for another year in college. Look for his mission right when you get there, and you’ll find more life flowing in and through you. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

When you ask my dad if he has any regrets in life, he’ll respond, "Of course not." He’s such an optimist. But for me, I do wish I did some things differently, though I trust Jesus to redeem it all. 

If I could do college over again, I’d take these three things to heart. And I hope that you will too.

About the Author
Vice President, Strategy and Innovation

James has been involved in campus ministry for decades, empowering generations of Kingdom world-changers. James leads a team responsible for resourcing our field ministry purposes of chapter growth, discipleship, evangelization, multiethnic resources, missions programs, digital ministry, and more. He is an innovator and thought leader who created the Big Story/Four Worlds gospel outline. His life-changing IVP books on evangelism and discipleship are True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In and Real Life: A Christianity Worth Living Out. Previously James served as the National Director of Evangelism.