First-year and other incoming students frequently have questions and turn to the university pastors. We are developing a list of FAQ that frequently come up. Check back here for more each week:
Q: Last fall I started in with a party scene, and now I don't know how to get out.
A: Sometimes it happens that we begin something new, like college, and we make early decisions or adopt patterns that we begin to question later on. If you're at a place that you're concluding isn't good for you, or you're hanging out with a group that you're beginning to see isn't a positive influence on your life, then it's time to make a change and Thanksgiving break is a great time to start thinking about it.
First off, the season's call to thankful reflection is an invitation to begin thinking about your priorities. You can add to that some further reflection on the things you'd like to change. As you do, pay special attention to the circumstances and patterns that serve as triggers to the things you'd like to leave behind. If you and your friends go out drinking on Friday as a release from the week's stress, then the experience of stress is the trigger. Triggers won't go away, but with thoughtfulness and effort you can change the way you respond to them and nudge your habit into a more helpful and life giving direction. It's really helpful to find a circle of support (even just one person) for you in this new venture.
Often the greatest barrier to change of this nature is the anxiety that accompanies the thought of leaving a group of friends -- even dysfunctional friends --at this late date and finding a new set of associations. Here again, Thanksgiving break brings opportunities. The weeks before Christmas break are loaded with deadlines. Your need to get your work done can provide you with a polite and respectful way of stepping out of old associations. Who knows? Maybe you'll find a circle of support in that study group.
Have a happy Thanksgiving
Q: I feel like some people are pressuring me to do or believe things that I’m not comfortable with. How do I handle that?
A: College is a time and place when you encounter a wide variety of things that are new and different for you. Some of those things will fit with who you are and what you believe. Some of those things will stretch you and challenge you to expand your horizons. And some other things will both challenge you and invite you to say “no thanks. That’s not for me.”
When you encounter actions or beliefs that make you uncomfortable, it’s a good idea to think through what it is that doesn’t feel right. If it is something that is simply new or different, it might give you an opportunity to think about things in a new way, or to re-examine your own thoughts or beliefs. Sometimes an encounter with someone or something that challenges us is the best way to confidently determine what we actually think or believe.
If, on the other hand, it is something that makes you feel threatened or unsafe – physically, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually – set a boundary and walk away. There is nothing wrong with saying “I’m not comfortable with this. I can’t do this.”
Then, find someone with whom you can process the experience. Talk it out. Think together with someone you trust to help you evaluate the circumstance and your response. Every experience can be an opportunity to learn – even, or maybe especially, experiences that move us out of our comfort zones.
Q: How do I know what God wants me to do with my life? How do I tell my parents that I don't want to study what they think I should?
A: These two questions are often related. The desire for divine direction arises in the collision between what we think we should be doing and what others think, or in that discovery that what others have told us to do isn't really working for us. When we figure out that our parents’ guidance isn't always all-knowing, a higher authority who can at once direct us onto the definitive path (and the same time trump the opinions of others) seems really attractive.
It's true that throughout the salvation story, God has called specific people to specific tasks. Moses, Mary and Paul are just a few examples. God has certainly called you. God calls you through the righteousness of Christ into a life of righteousness. God's will for your life is Jesus and we take hold of that will in baptism. Then, because you are in relationship with God, God calls you to a life of service in the world. But what shape that service takes is yours to choose as you think through your interests and abilities against the backdrop of the needs and opportunities around you. God placed our first parents in the garden and said to them, "choose of the fruit of any of the trees…”
Now shortly after humanity’s fall into sin, God warns us that though we might pour our lives into our work, that work will also bring suffering and won't be all satisfying. This is a helpful reality check as we think about our dream job.
But what are we to do if our choosing is in conflict with what others think? Here, the task is often that of open honest discussion. Tell your parents what you're thinking. Share the info you gain from other advisors. Listen patiently to them and seek to really understand their perspective, and the values that lie it. In most cases, our parents want what's best for us. Frequently success in conversation can be found in helping them to see what we are proposing hews to their same values.
May God bless your conversations.
Q: I’m really overwhelmed; what do I do?
A: You’ve already done the first important thing: you’ve acknowledged that you are overwhelmed. Good for you!
This is a really stressful time of the semester for everyone, but especially for first year students. There are papers, projects, exams, and before too long, the semester will be drawing to a close. No wonder you are overwhelmed!
Sometimes, we get overwhelmed because the plate is so full that we cannot make sense out of what do to next. It is hard to tell where to begin. Because of that, it can be important to take a step back. Realistically look at all that you have to do. Prioritize by deciding what is absolutely essential, what is pretty important, and what “would be nice but isn’t really necessary.” Get help with this if you need to.
Then, map out your calendar. Create for yourself a schedule that identifies what you are going to work on when. Include in your calendar sleep, food, breaks, time with friends, time for yourself, time with God – because all of that is essential to doing what needs to be done.
And then, literally take one step at a time. Work through one item on your calendar, and then move on to the next. It will give you some order. It will help you create a path forward. It will let you see that you, indeed can do this!
Q: I’ve experienced some bad things in the past. I haven’t thought about them in a long time, but now that I’m at college, they are kind of coming back to me. I don’t know what to do.
A: Sometimes, major changes in our lives bring to mind experiences from our past that have long since been buried. We think that these experiences have little or nothing to do with our lives now, and then, without warning, they are right there – front and center again.
It can kind of feel like a storm that comes up out of nowhere, and you are caught off guard. Or, it can be like when you are driving along in your car and hit an unexpected bump: everything flies off the seats in all directions.
It can be hard to navigate in an unexpected storm. It can be difficult to figure out how to pick everything up and put it back in its place when you are driving along the highway!
So, what do you do when the bad things from your past are suddenly present again in the here and now?
First, know that this is completely normal, and then find someone with whom you can talk and sort it all out. It may be that a conversation or two with a friend will help you get back on solid footing, or it may be something that you want to work through with a counselor or other trained professional. The Counseling Center is a terrific place to turn, and either Pr. Jim or I would be happy to be a listening ear.
The important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There are lots of people here to help you.
Q: I'm home for break, and it's weird.
A: Your first time home after starting school can present some unexpected challenges for everyone. The regular contact that many students have with their parents while at school can lead both parent and students to believe that things are flowing smoothly and everyone knows what to expect when the reunion at home happens.
But you've likely grown more independent while away and sometimes parents, eager to have you home again, anticipate things to be just as they were when you left. Your parents may have expectations of you regarding family time or what time you’ll be home. On the other hand you, in your enthusiasm to get home, may have been somewhat blind to the fact that your family has continued on with their daily lives in your absence. Sometimes students returning home are surprised by small changes that have taken place while they were gone.
All of these developments are among those things that can be expected at this stage in your life. What’s of most importance is that you and your family talk openly about the changes, not in a defensive or accusatory manner, but in the spirit of catching up on all that’s going on in the lives of people who love one another, even through the changes.
Another thing, you might discover – maybe not over this break, but probably by next summer – is that some of your high school friends are moving on to other things or that the drive to reconnect with them is not as strong in you. This, too, is a part of life.
May God bless you through all of the changes.
Q: I’m meeting a lot of people from different backgrounds and cultures. I’m not sure what to think about that or how to relate. What do I do?
A: The experience of the college and university years is filled with many different things that are new, especially for first year students. For a lot of students, the opportunity to interact with, get to know, and establish relationships with peers whose life stories and cultural backgrounds are different from your own is one of the most exciting “new things” that college brings. But it can also be a little intimidating.
Here at Valpo, we say that the learning that happens outside the classroom is just as important – sometimes more so – than the learning that happens inside the classroom. Getting to know people from other backgrounds and cultures is part of that learning. It gives you an opportunity to expand your horizons, to learn about the world from a different perspective, and to come face-to-face with experiences that can cause you to reflect in new ways upon your own culture and your own life story.
One of the best things to do is to acknowledge that this is new territory for you. Take a deep breath and seek to be intentional about being open to learning the stories of your peers. And then regularly take stock of your own sense of who you are in light of the new things you have learned.
Through it all, remember that this too is part of you becoming the person God has created and called you to be.
Q: I think I've made some bad decisions in my first weeks on campus and I'm not sure what to do about it.
A: The first weeks at college bring lots of changes for most new students. There are plenty of opportunities to mess up. Not only do you not have the on-site support of family to help you order your day, you also bear the full burden of staying on top of your course work, sometimes without specific assignments and due dates. Then add the social scene of a residential campus and the independence of living away from home–well, sometimes we make bad choices.
For me the great thing about forgiveness is the freedom that it brings. It's never too late for a fresh start. Your failures, however catastrophic, do not need to determine your future.
That is not to say that there aren't consequences for our actions. Some of them can be quite painful, but consequences aren't the same as destiny.
If you've made mistakes or done things of which you're now not proud, tomorrow is still a new day. God forgives you for the sake of Jesus' righteousness and calls you to learn from your mistakes and move on to more and more fully become the person that you are being called to be.
Often, learning from our failures requires a shift in the way we are doing things, the experiences we are seeking, or the people that we are allowing to influence our lives. All of these changes are possible.
If you find yourself continuing to be burdened by guilt over what you've done or shame for what has happened to you, consider making an appointment with one of the pastors who will hear your confession confidentially and share the forgiveness of God with you.
Always expecting resurrection,
+ Pr. Jim
Q: I feel like I have a lot of acquaintances here at college. How do I figure out where I belong and make really good friends?
You have been here at college long enough that you probably feel like you are starting to know quite a few names, but you maybe don’t know a lot of people. You undoubtedly miss having people around you who know you – your story, what makes you laugh, what makes you cry.
Perhaps you have heard people say that in college, you will make the best friends of your life, and you might be wondering, did I miss something? Why don’t I have any really good friends yet?
First of all, remember that you have been here for only a few weeks. Be patient with yourself and with others. You are just starting to settle into a rhythm and a routine. Give yourself time to share common experiences with others that will draw you to people who share your passions, your interests, your values and your ideals.
And finally, seek to form relationships in places and settings that are life-giving for you. You belong where you can become the person God has created you to be. You belong with others who accept you and love you for who you are. Look for friends in the settings on campus that bring out the best in you. Find settings where you can bring out the best in others, and the friendships will follow.
+ Pr. Char
Q: Back in high school, I was always the smartest one in the room, but now that I'm here… Well, I've never been with so many other smart people before and I'm not sure what that I know who I am.
A: That statement was made to me by a new student early in my first Fall at Valpo. Some version of it has come my way nearly every fall since. The student who said that to me was anxious, unsettled, maybe even a little fearful.
We are known by our accomplishments and how our accomplishments stack us up against those around us. It's easy to get more than a little competitive and when the competition increases the way it does at a place like Valpo, it can get anxiety-inducing.
Nevertheless, God promises to bless in any and all circumstances (Romans 8:28). We can look at those around us and grow anxious about how we compare, or we can see them as fellow pilgrims on a journey. We can see them as sources of knowledge and blessing, as partners with us on the intellectual, social and spiritual adventure that is your college career.
+ Pr Jim
Q: I'm homesick. What do I do?
A: You’ve now been here at college long enough to have it sink into your heart and mind that college life is different from high school life and from the home where you have lived. Pretty much everything here is a new experience.
The routine is new. Your living situation is new. The food is new. The people are new. Your classes are new.
All of this newness can be unsettling. It can make you miss home. It can make you miss the routine, the comfortable, the familiar. That is perfectly normal. You miss home because there are things, experiences, and people at home that you love.
There is security and comfort in the familiar.
So what do you do? Remember you are not alone. Most first year students feel homesick at one time or another. To help you move into your new life here, establish a routine. Develop a new familiar. Get engaged in groups and activities that tap into your passions. Talk with someone – your Peer Minister, a new friend, someone on your floor. Ask them to pray with you. And through it all, trust and believe that the God who holds you in the palm of his hand has promised to never leave nor forsake you. Even here. Even now.
+ Pr. Char
Q: The whole roommate thing is new to me. How do I figure out how to live with someone?
A: For those of us with limited roommate experience, the challenge of living in close quarters with someone can feel nearly overwhelming. Their very presence can feel like an imposition.
It’s easy to get focused on our frustration and all that is wrong and begin to think that the best we can do is work to minimize the trouble or inconvenience that a roommate presents to our lives.
A better way is to pause in order to get control of our attitude and come around to another way of thinking.
You can move, intentionally, from “How can I minimize this hassle?” to “How can I become more aware of the blessing that this other person is bringing into my life? How can I maximize this opportunity?”
If living with your roommate isn’t coming easily, one way forward is to ask for time to talk with them.
The goal in this conversation is to get to know them. I don’t mean talking about your favorite music, movie, book, etc. I mean being able to talk at a deeper level -- questions like, “What’s important to you? What are you hoping for? What has your life been like?”
If you focus on really getting to know each other and understand where the other has been, and where they are hoping to go, and why, then very often the other problems begin to sort themselves out in the context of your deepening appreciation of one another.
Remember in all of it that the abundance of God’s love for you allows you to risk being gracious to one another.
+ Pr. Jim
Q: How do I go about leaving home?
A: Though you most likely have been away from home before, leaving home to live in a place apart from your immediate family is probably a new experience. You most likely are filled with a variety of emotions about this reality – excited, nervous, anxious, energized, and maybe even a little sad.
All of this is perfectly normal. You are facing a significant change in your life. As you leave home, it is important to acknowledge what you feel, mark your leaving in a way that is meaningful to you, and bring with you whatever pieces of home will be important to you amid this new journey.
Take time to say “good-bye” to people who matter to you. Take time to say “thank you” to those who have helped you along the way. For those who have nurtured you and been a part of bringing you to this time in your life, ask them to pray with you and for you.
And remember, just as God called Abram and Sarai to leave everything behind and go forward into God’s future of blessing for them, God is calling you into this new time and place of blessing in your life. You do not leave home alone. God goes with you and ahead you.
+ Pr. Char
A: This is a great question and one that deserves some thought.
Not only are you limited by the size of your parents' minivan or their unwillingness to rent a U-Haul, but the rooms in the first year dorms, as you know, are really small.
Their small size can be a source of frustration, or an opportunity -- an opportunity toward simpler living.
Think of it, fall break will be just seven weeks away. Why not experiment? How little can you get along with?
It's no secret that in western consumer culture, we've got way more stuff than we need. But how much do you need? Here's your chance to find out.
Along the way, you might discover that it's less than you thought. That sharing things among friends puts the lie to the myth of self-reliance. That our love of stuff is often a hedge against anxiety and insecurity. And that Jesus might've been on to something when he talked about about finding your treasure in heaven.
+ Pr. Jim
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