It was Robert Mullholland who said, “Spiritual Formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” As the Assistant Director of Campus Ministries at a Huntington University, I find myself on the front lines of this process on a daily basis. College students are no simple group of people - actually, they are quite complex, struggling, doubting, questioning and sometimes outright rebellious individuals. Yet, that is what I love about them. I love to hear the stories of their lives, their families, their tragedies, their hopes and dreams, and how that is going to translate into having an impact on the world we live in.
Lately, one of the books that has “hit a nerve” with the upperclassman is “To Be Told” by Dan Allender. By using the simple metaphor of “story” to represent our life, Allender draws the students into the depth of who they are, and who they are becoming. With the “baggage” emotionally, spiritually and mentally the average college student carries (and also brought to college with them), they need a safe place to begin unpacking their story – they need a community.
Even within the community of a Christian campus, it is normal to find students who have not been raised in Christian homes. Most have not had positive church experiences growing up. Actually, many find it hard to trust organized religion at all. And probably the most apparent and the saddest thing is that most college students do not know the Bible. Not only are they having a hard time articulating their own story - they do not know God’s story.
Allender mentions, “God is not merely the Creator of our life. He is also the Author of our life, and He writes each person’s life to reveal His divine story.” This is the beginning of the journey for many of my students. To admit that God is writing something with their life – the good and the bad - is when the light bulb goes on. They do have a purpose – God’s purpose. This is frequently realized two or three years into college. More and more, I have juniors and seniors come in my office saying, “I’m not sure of my calling.” Quickly, it is discerned that they don’t have a clue how to define “calling.” Some see it as a vocation or career, others a deep longing or even possibly guilt. They also flippantly use the word “passion” without knowing the root of the word – suffering.
Life for the college student seems like “a series of random scenes that pile up like shoes in a closet.” They do not see how their tragedies, friendships, families, church backgrounds or lack of any of them are intertwined and have shaped them into who they are or who they are becoming. Sadly, most have never reflected on their own lives. More often they have been told (by well meaning church folk) to forget or suppress their past and follow their calling – but almost never have they been asked to learn their past and begin to explore their calling.
“When I study my life story, I can then join God as a coauthor. I don’t have to settle for merely being a reader of my life; God calls me to be a writer of my future.” Allender put it so well in that quote. God calls us to coauthor our life with Him. Those students who take up this challenge to study their life story, find that God has been authoring a pretty interesting book – their life. And yes, their decisions have been very important as well.
My “passion” (hopefully using the word correctly) is to see students learn how to begin this process of conforming to the image of God. If I can get them to take this step, they will see the necessity and blessing in telling their stories for the sake of others. I’m not talking about creating more preachers or Bible-thumpers, but authentic, genuine believers, who through their lifestyle imitate Christ to the World and bring about “real” change.
Rev. Fr. Bob Henry , Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana. He also is an adjunct faculty member teaching classes in Leadership, Calling, University Life and Capstone. Bob is happily married to Sue and has three wonderful boys (Alex, Sam and Lewis). Check out Bob’s blog at www.spiritualinform.blogspot.com