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

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Spring Break 2014: Getting Sharpened

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I spent spring break in California with the twelve guys in the picture above. So often during the trip, I’d find myself stepping back, watching these guys live, and simply learning more of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. These twelve guys in this picture sharpen me. 

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Chandler is probably my weirdest friend. I say that as a compliment, and he beats out some stiff competition for that award. He’s teaching me to take myself less seriously. So often I tiptoe around my days, taking no risks and trying not make any mistakes. Chan possesses a contagious confidence in Christ and lives with this sense of abandonment. He’s free to be himself, to be God’s child, and to follow Jesus joyfully. The things that we care too much about—our image and reputation and those little things that rob us of joy—we need to let go of those.  

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Nate calls his white bucket hat his “memory hat” and says that it is very special. I think that means he borrowed it from his mom Sue. Nate is teaching me how to talk. I often use my words carelessly, settling for small talk or sarcasm. On SB2K14, whether it was with us or strangers or the families that hosted us, Nate used his words to affirm and encourage the people around him. He shares scripture, ask real questions, and share the Gospel whenever he gets the chance. Our words should point people towards Jesus, not away from Him.

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Mitchell rocked a dirty mustache all week. Mitchell is teaching me to go deeper in my relationships. I’m often not willing to be vulnerable or put forth the time that it takes to genuinely know and love my friends well. Last semester, when I was first getting to know Mitchell, I asked him a question. “Hey bro, what is something that you’re really passionate about?” He replied casually, “This is going to sound weird, man, but I’m just really passionate about intimacy. Not the romantic kind though, I just love to really know people.” Mitchell is always striving to know people better so he can love people better. The prerequisite to really loving our friends well is knowing them on a deep level.

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Will is teaching me how to be a better friend. He’s going to be a professional friend when he grows up. He is a master at the art of friendship. Will knows when to crack a joke and when to sit down next to you and ask “what’s wrong?” He knows when to play “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake and when to play “Oceans” by Hillsong. He’s the perfect best friend mix of funny and serious, and alternates between deep and shallow conversations with expert skill and precision. So much of being a friend is knowing how to love somebody in different situations, and Will does that really, really well.

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John Mark is teaching me to put others first. That sounds cliché until you see him in action. This dude drove thirteen hours straight on the drive home, earning him the nickname of dad and serving the rest of the car by letting them sleep. He puts the interests of the people around him ahead of his own, and he is happiest when he’s helping somebody else. Our focus as believers needs to be outward: how can we put the people around us before ourselves?

Shout-out to Devin his better half

Shout-out to his better half Devin

 

Justin is teaching me enthusiasm for Christ, for other people, and for life itself. I’m pretty sure Justin was either smiling, shouting, or laughing the entire trip. He lives and he speaks with so much passion and enthusiasm that it’s contagious. You’re buying what he’s selling, and he’s selling you on how ridiculously incredible our God is. For the Christian, our enthusiasm should embody the hope that is within us. It makes it tangible, touchable, and visible.

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Jared is teaching me what life looks like when you live without fear.  I love living life with Jar-Bear. Whether it is giving up sleeping indoors for Lent or rushing KOT when you live in a house full of ZZZ’s, this bro just goes for it. Jared goes where God calls him and he goes there boldly. His fearlessness gives us a compelling picture of what calls us to. We’re called to go for things, to live big stories, to do the things that matter and to do them with courage because of the big God that we serve.

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Chris is teaching me what true joy looks like and where true joy is found. His story, the things that he has been through and the joy that he exhibits through trials, is a ridiculous testimony to the God that he lives for. Twice in my life, I’ve caught Chris not smiling. He’s an incredibly joyful guy, and this joy comes from the Lord. Our joy as Christians isn’t rooted in the circumstances of today but in the King that died on a cross and rose again on the third day. 1898840_10152310634046499_1472325058_o

We call Zach “dark horse” because nobody sees him coming.  Zach is teaching me what it means to serve. He does the little things that people don’t usually notice, which is fine because he’s not doing it for the attention anyways. Several times on the trip, I’d catch Zach doing something for the group that nobody would ever notice: vacuuming out the car, setting up the spikeball net, little things that show big love for both Jesus and other people. True acts of service arise out of love, not a desire to be noticed.

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Jibach is teaching me how to live with passion. Jibach was the photographer, hype man, and official bro point distributor on the trip. When you hear him talk about the things he loves, such as making movies, Navy Seals, and Jesus, you can’t help but pick up on his passion. You can see this passion on display in the videos that he makes. Check them out at this link. https://www.youtube.com/user/EPyeahbuddy If hearing the good news of Jesus doesn’t make us passionate people, we’re listening to the wrong gospel.

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Bill is my hero. He’s taught me a ridiculous amount about life with Jesus in the past year and a half. But more than anything else, Bill is teaching me how to be genuine. Bill is the most real person I know. He doesn’t wear masks or put up facades that make him appear a certain way to certain people. We are free to be genuine when our identity is in Christ alone.1891335_10203401736948953_715769414_o

Carter is teaching me to live a contagious life for Christ. The only way I can describe my bro Carter is with the word magnetic. His life and the ridiculously cool and crazy things that he does cause people to throw out their preconceived notions about what it means to follow Jesus. After a five minute conversation with Carter, you simply can’t think that life with Jesus is boring or dull. Life with Jesus, the real Jesus, the one who calls us to love our enemies and take up our cross daily—that life with that Jesus is anything but boring.

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