I graduated from college 159 days ago. This makes me feel a little unqualified to offer any kind of spiritual advice— after all, I’m still a kid (or at least I still ask my mom if she’ll help me book my dentist appointments. And she does, God bless her). Luckily, I recently attended a four-day spiritual retreat called Mississippi Episcopal Cursillo, where many folks wiser than me helped me find the words to describe the journey of my faith.
College is a hard place to be faithful—and I went to Ole Miss, which many would consider a pretty Christian place. My sorority opened its chapter meetings with devotions, well over half of my friends were involved in one campus ministry or another, and every night before dinner we joined our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven: “Father in heaven we pray, bless thee our love. Keep our Tri Delt ideals pure as the above. Bless thee our daily bread. Bless our lives through. Grateful we come my Lord, grateful to you!” Okay, maybe it’s not the Sanctus, but it sums up the Christian mindset that surrounded me. Plus, I was a religion major. I spent literally (and I mean that in the dictionary, also-an-English-minor sense) hours every day talking Father, Son, and associates. How could I possibly have struggled in my faith?
Enter: the world. Not the ground below and skies above, but the Biblical, capital-W World, riddled with sin and dripping with temptation and burning with anger and sizzling with pride. When we think of ways college pulls us away from our faith, we think of TV dramedy fodder—sex, drugs, alcohol, parties. It’s easy, as a Christian in college, to see a giant banner for a frat party and say, “That event will involve sin.” But what about a flyer for another club to join, or an email about class offerings? It’s easy to overlook the cardinal sins of envy, greed, pride, and wrath that can rear their heads in the competitive college environment.
At school, if I wasn’t holed up in some basement or coffee shop studying so I could make just the right argument in the class discussion, I was running on the treadmill at the Turner Center so I could look more like one of the legs-for-days girls on my Instagram feed, or planning events for the clubs I directed so I could impress the members, or painting banners to hang outside the sorority house for acquaintances to compliment, or baking cookies for friends in need to show how much I cared about them. On the surface, I was studying and exercising and participating in extracurriculars and being an involved member of my sorority and supporting my friends. Underneath, though, my motivations were sinful: I was envious, greedy, proud, and wrathful.
All those deadly sins proved fatal for my mental health: I had a major struggle with an anxiety disorder my junior year of college that led my grades to suffer and my relationships to crumble. I was doing all the right things, but still my mind and spirit felt off. I started seeing a therapist, tried a few different medications, minimized my extracurricular commitments, and stopped trying so hard to win everything. In attempting to regulate my anxiety, I found myself more aware of the unholy thoughts that controlled my decisions and worked hard to pull myself away from them.
This meant that my senior year, I went from aiming for some clout-heavy internship in Washington, DC, to trying to listen to where God wanted me to go. My friends in the Episcopal church guided me to the Chapel, and I found a welcoming home in the front office, where the oak trees rustle outside my window and cheerful parishioners buzz around on Wednesday mornings. It has meant slowing down. It has meant listening for God’s voice instead of the voices of people I knew in college who say, “You work at a… church? Like… for the summer, right? What’s next?” And it has meant a better relationship with myself, my friends, my family, and my God than I’ve had in years.
Although I knew what had happened in my life, I didn’t have good words to describe it until I attended Cursillo last month. At Cursillo, we discussed that the ways we spend our time, money, and efforts sometimes just don’t feel right—not because they aren’t worthy ventures on paper, but because they aren’t on God’s roadmap for us. It’s as if we’re in a car, and we’re getting somewhere—it might even look like we’re getting ahead—but we aren’t listening to God. We aren’t hearing his GPS—his grace, patience, and salvation, as a friend in my small group put it—so we keep taking wrong turns and hitting roadblocks of sin.
I had to hit the brakes and let God’s grace find me where I was to discover that maybe God’s path for me wasn’t the same as my path for me. By putting aside my pride and recognizing that I didn’t know the way, I finally tuned in to that pesky GPS that had been trying to tell me to slow down, turn around, and recalculate for so long. Although the outcome I’d hoped for was technically good and the actions I was taking toward it were not outwardly sinful, I was motivated by sin. Therefore, by letting God lead me, I truly believe I have chosen not the lesser of two evils, but the greater of two goods.