A Letter to a College Freshman (and anybody else who has ever felt insecure, inadequate, or unimportant)

Dear College Freshmen,

Do yourself a favor. Put down your monthly planner for five minutes. Don’t think about tonight’s social or tomorrow’s exam or your ongoing roommate conflict. Close out of that Buzzfeed article. Step away from the research paper. Surely you’ve noticed by now that #CollegeNoParents is a ridiculously busy time of life. And in the midst of welcome back mixers and test anxiety, it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re really getting into.

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You’re three weeks into the most important year of your life. Is that too bold of a claim? I don’t mean to exaggerate. This is the year that you are going to answer the questions that matter. You aren’t going figure out the specifics—what you want to do with your life, where you want to settle down, or whom you’ll marry—but you’ll answer the big questions, the ones that quite literally shape the rest of your life—Who am I? Why am I here? What type of a person am I going to be?

But there are other questions that seem to come before the big ones—the questions we ask ourselves every single day, questions that that run around in our brain before every first date or paper deadline or rush event—Do I belong? Am I good/cool/attractive/funny/spiritual enough?  Am I loved?

Two years ago, I showed up on Baylor’s campus—an insecure 18-year-old with something to prove.  During my freshman year, I couldn’t go to the gym or the dining hall or even Church without feeling the need to be funny, be known, be successful, and be liked. I was constantly trying to prove to others that I mattered and I belonged. And here’s what happened—a lot of times it worked. My efforts to be something I wasn’t paid off. The guys laughed at my jokes, the girl texted back, and the paper came back with an A at the top.

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I lived for the approval of others, for people saying “hey you’re smart” or “hey you’re cool” or even “Hey you really love Jesus.” I looked to people around me and let them determine my value and my worth. But here was the problem. No matter what they said or how much I succeeded in winning their approval,  there was always somebody else to impress and there was always another task to prove myself with. Trying to find my identity in girls or groups or grades left me exhausted, empty, and unfulfilled. Finally I quit. I quit asking people around me if I was good enough or successful enough or even loved enough. I quit asking the people around me and started asking somebody else.

I took those questions to God, and here’s what He said back:

Vince, you live life behind a mask, trying to put forth a plastic image of perfection that people will like.

But you and I both know that image is a lie. Vince, you’re messy and sinful and broken. Worse than that, you spend your days trying to hide that from everyone around you.But here’s what I want you to know.

My Son took care of it. He came to Earth, lived the perfect life you never could, hung on a cross for your sins, and rose again. You don’t have what it takes, not even close. But He did.

And I want you. I want your heart. I want you to find your identity in me. His sacrifice cover your sins. His sacrifice cleaned up your messes. His sacrifice filled in your holes. Now come follow me. Come live in me. Come love like me.

God told me through friends who loved me enough to point me to Jesus when I would try to find my identity in them. He told me this through an incredible church that brought me back to the Gospel each and every week. And He told me through the Bible, His immaculate love letter to His people that have done nothing to deserve his love.

Here’s the point of the letter. If you’ve been skim-reading to this point, tune in for these last couple paragraphs and hear this message loud and clear. What Jesus has done on the cross changes EVERYTHING about those questions (Do I belong? Do I matter? Am I loved?) that are rattling around in your head.

So if you get one thing from this post, get this. You matter. You belong. You are loved. Not because you’re successful or funny or attractive or even kind, but because the God who made you says so. He’s made a way to be His through the sacrifice of His Son. What does that look like? It’s simple: Admit your shortcomings and sins, Believe that Jesus paid your bill on the cross and rose again, and then Choose to follow Him—striving to live and love like your Savior.

But wait a minute, what does this have to do with college? What does Jesus have to do with sorority functions and midterms and late night pillow talk with the roomies? Everything. When you stop looking to others to answers those pesky questions of insecurity that rattle around in your head, when you stop letting other people determine your worth, then these four years of life start to look way different.

Finding your desire to be successful, your sense of belonging, and your need to be loved in Jesus changes everything. Rather than walking around your campus looking for approval, affirmation, and acceptance, you start looking for ways to dish out all the love that’s been shown to you by your Creator.

Your ideas of success, the way you keep score, the way you view the people around you, all of it starts to shift when you’re rooted in the love of Jesus. Everybody you bump into—the people across the hall who play the music too loud, your rival fraternity, your roommate who hits the snooze button six times every morning—becomes an opportunity to show the love and grace that has been shown to you. Jesus transforms #CollegeNoParents from a period of insecurity and self-absorption to an incredible period of your life full of opportunities—opportunities every day to show the love of Jesus to every single person you come in contact with.

Whether you’re a freshmen or a fifth-year senior, here’s my hope for you and me:

Let your roots grow down into Him(Jesus), and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:7

Let it happen. Cast off the questions and the doubts and the insecurities, and plant your roots deep in the person of Jesus. Fill up your glass with His love, grace, and truth, and watch those things overflow on your campus.

Sincerely,

Vince Greenwald

A Letter from a CL

I printed this letter off and gave it to my thirty residents a couple of months ago. I wrote it for them but I’m sharing it because I think it applies just as much to you and me today as it does to any college freshman. We need to take our insecurities, lay them at the foot of the cross, and dwell on His sufficient grace every single day. Love-of-Christ

To my residents,

You’re just over two weeks into what will probably be the most important year of your life. I don’t mean to exaggerate. This is the year that you are going to answer the questions that matter. You won’t figure out all of the specifics such as what you want to do with your life or whom you’ll marry, but you’ll answer the big questions, the ones that you really can’t avoid like Who are you? Why are you here? Do you belong?

And then there’s one question that seems to come before all those ones. You’ll be trying to answer it in every classroom, at every rush event, and on every date. To get into the group or get the A or get the girl, do you have what it takes?

During my freshman year, I couldn’t go to the gym or the dining hall or even Church without feeling the need to look good or come off as funny or be liked. I was trying to prove to others that I mattered and I belonged and I had what it takes. And a lot of times it worked. The guys laughed at my jokes, the girl texted back, and the rush chair told me I was in. A big part of me lived for the approval of others, for people saying “hey you’re smart” or “hey you’re cute” or even “Hey you really love Jesus.” I looked to people around me to determine my value and my worth. But here was the problem. No matter what they said or how much I succeeded in winning their approval, trying to find my identity in girls or groups or grades left me empty. Finally I quit. I quit asking people around me if I had what it takes. The only person who could answer that question was my Creator.

So I asked the question to God. Do I have what it takes? Here’s what He said:

Vince, you’re messy and sinful and broken and you spend your days trying to hide that from everybody you know. But here’s what I want you to know. My Son took care of it. He came to Earth, lived the perfect life you never could, hung on a cross for your sins, and rose again. You don’t have what it takes, not even close. But He did. And I want you. I want your heart. I want you to find your identity in me. I’ll cover your sins and clean up your messes. Just come follow me.

And here’s the deal. I didn’t have a vision. I didn’t hear this from some big booming voice in the sky. God told me this through an incredible Church that preaches Jesus every week. He told me through friends who loved me enough to point me to Jesus when I would try to find my identity in them. And He told me through the Bible, His love letter to you and me.

So here’s what I’ll leave you with. First off, know that I’m here for you. I’m living here because I love you guys and want to see you become who God made you to be. If you ever want to talk, you know where my door is. Second, I think that what Jesus has done for us changes EVERYTHING about the question of “Do I have what it takes?” Learn from my mistake, Don’t look to others to determine your worth. Look to our God. His grace is sufficient.

Your CL,

Vince