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During my senior year of high school, I was offered a spot on the softball team at a university on the other side of the country. It was my dream to play my favorite sport at the collegiate level, but I had one major concern. I wondered what would happen to my relationship with God—which had been growing for several years—once I got to campus. Would it crumble and recede into the background, or would it remain strong?
That entire summer before leaving for college, I felt a mounting sense of fear about this question. I thought back to how my love for God had started blossoming through people who introduced me to a personal God and a living faith. Would I find a similar community when I got to college? Would I even want to find it? I didn’t know.
“With All Your Heart.” I had grown up in a Catholic homeschooling family, but up until my freshman year of high school, I thought the faith was rule based—and hard to follow, at that! But that began to change when I visited a friend’s high school youth group.
One of the leaders there, a woman named “Mo,” told me, “If you ever need someone, I’m here.” A few months later, some difficult family issues arose, and I took Mo up on her offer. I started going over to her house after school and talking to her while she was cooking dinner.
I could see that God was a huge part of Mo’s life, and I told her that I wanted that kind of relationship with God. But I didn’t know what to do. She gave me a Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:13, and suggested that I spend five minutes every day praying. I wrote the verse on an index card and stuck it on my tackboard. “You will find me . . . when you seek me with all your heart.”
I tried praying for a couple of days, and then dropped off. About six months went by before I noticed the index card again. Suddenly, four of the words leapt out to me: “with all your heart.” I called Mo right away. I asked her, “What does it mean to seek God with my whole heart? Do I have to give up everything? Even softball?” “No,” she said, “you just have to be ready to give it up.” So I prayed, “God, whatever you want to do with my life, I’m ready.”
Stronger in Community. Over the next few years, my relationship with God grew stronger as I continued reading Scripture, praying, and spending time with faith-filled friends. In my last year of high school, I also began spending time with Jesus in Adoration, often with my friends. The trouble was that they wouldn’t be attending the same college as me.
I couldn’t shake the dread I felt about this, even as I packed up my things and got ready to move. I kept picturing drinking parties and couples stealing away into dark bedrooms—and it turned out my predictions were not far off.
But just before classes started that fall, I went on a multiday retreat put on by the school’s Catholic campus ministry. It was the first retreat I had ever been on. My nervousness didn’t go away on the retreat, but I did meet friends there who practiced their faith. And just as I did with my friends in high school, we went together to pray in the chapel the first night back from the retreat. Someone even brought a guitar and played worship songs.
As we sang and prayed, I found myself kneeling under the chapel’s dome, which had a dramatic painting of the Holy Spirit in it. Suddenly I started crying, and a wave of remorse flooded me. I realized I had not been trusting God about staying strong in my faith. I had been putting faith in everyone else and in the temptations around me. Right then, under that dome, I felt as if the Holy Spirit was descending upon me. Somehow I just knew that God would be with me; he would help me when I would be tempted. I looked at the students around me, and I knew they would be Christ’s presence to me too. I could talk with them, and we could pray together.
In the World, Not of the World. From then on, I started looking for ways to bridge my two worlds: the world of athletics and the world of faith. I have friends in both places and constantly find myself looking to Jesus to help me decide whom to spend time with and how to demonstrate my love for him when I’m with my teammates. Life at college still brings its share of hardships and uncertainty, but one Scripture passage that guides me is this:
Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. On those who waver, have mercy; save others by snatching them out of the fire. (Jude 21-23)
I’ve had a few opportunities to put this passage into practice with some of my softball friends. Recently, a teammate said to me, “I know there is a God, but I don’t know how to have a relationship with him.” I told her that I had been there too. “You could try praying for just five minutes every day,” I told her. “Oh, and look up Jeremiah 29:13.”
Burning Brightly Together. St. Catherine of Siena once said, “Be who God created you to be and you will set the world on fire.” There is no one-size-fits-all approach to sharing my faith. But I’m willing to pass along whatever God has taught me so far. With the help of many friends and mentors, I feel as if I have come full circle.
Lately, I’ve started thinking about my Catholic community on campus like a bunch of hot coals. If you move one coal away from the fire and away from the other coals, it dies out. But close together, we maintain our heat—and burn more brightly!
Mariah Godde is a college sophomore. She blogs at weareimperfectlybeautiful.com
Stoking the Fire on College Campuses
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