What Do You Do With Friendly Apathy?

My first day on campus as a freshman, the InterVarsity staff worker, Glenn, (who had gotten my name from my parents) called and invited me to come to a retreat on campus. As I listened to his pitch, my heart sank. I wanted nothing to do with Christ or Christians. I came to school to party, party, party! But my mom raised me to be polite so I said “yes” to the retreat. It was really bad! Boring teaching, weak games, and more of the same old, same old Jesus stuff... When it ended that Sunday morning, I decided to put that group and Jesus in my rear view mirror.

However it wasn’t going to be that easy!  Glenn called me the following Monday morning and invited me to lunch. To this day, I don’t know why, but I agreed to go. At lunch, he introduced me to several other Christians in my dorm complex. “Oh no!”, I thought. “Nice to meet you” I said politely. Then I discovered that one of them, Jay, was in my chemistry lab. Somehow I ended up signing up for a Bible study and playing touch (or should I say smash, grab and touch!) football with these guys on Saturday mornings. I just hoped that none of them would see what I had been doing the previous Friday or Saturday nights.

After that, I settled into good old-fashioned hypocrisy. Act nice at Bible study. Hit hard in touch football. Live the way I wanted to the rest of the time. When it came time for personal application at the end of each study, I learned the trick of saying nothing and just affirming what others were sharing. I was a “nice guy” but my life dripped spiritual apathy. For a while that seemed to work for me. At least it kept my parents from getting a phone call from Glenn. It allowed me to pursue the life I thought I wanted. Slowly though, that strategy unraveled. I really liked these Bible study guys. And some of the women there were pretty cute. More importantly, their lives had purpose and meaning. I was on a fast train to nowhere. The parties were getting old, and my friends on that side of my life were getting stale… their lives were as empty as mine.

The next summer I ended up on a second shift job, watching a bunch of machines that put threads on screws. Every evening when my hometown friends were out having fun, I was making sure that twenty thread machines did not jam up. Little did I know that this was God’s plan to get me to take a deeper look at myself. I did not like it, but my self-assessment showed me a very shallow life.

When school started the following September, my chemistry lab buddy invited me to the same retreat I had hated the year before. This time, my “yes” was not just a polite one. I was now searching for purpose and significance. The first night of the retreat a bunch of the guys stayed up late. No one was out to impress anyone. The talk was very honest and real. They talked about their struggles and their joys. The way that they listened to each other and then prayed for each other blew me away. They did not seem uncomfortable with my silence but their questions to me came out of sincere caring, not out of “clichéd Christian-ese”. When the group broke up at 1 am, I went out for a long walk in the rain. It was as if the Holy Spirit was in front of me and behind me. I knew that I wanted the kind of life that God was showing me. Slowly, in my own way, I said “yes” to Jesus; I was ready to follow him. I have never looked back.

The students you encounter on campus need someone like Glenn and Jay in their lives; someone who will persevere with, and care for them for the long haul. You can be that person if you will only live out Christ in front of them, displaying his patience and love. They may seem like spiritual marshmallows but their apathy could be a mask they are wearing. Just keep inviting. Just keep asking a question or two along the way. Just keep showing a sincere interest. Don’t give up!! The Holy Spirit is always at work.

About the Author
Interim President

Jim Lundgren has served as InterVarsity's Interim President. He and his wife, Mary Beth, live in Madison, Wisconsin. Jim has two grown sons, Tim and Andy. He has been with InterVarsity since 1973.