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I’ve been there. It might not even be that you’re actively missing home or that things are going terribly. On the outside, things might seem to be working for you. But on the inside, there’s some little kid screaming, your soul feeling absent from your surroundings, and you’re not sure how to make sense of it all.
For the first time in your life, you live away from the only home you’ve ever known. You’re surrounded by new faces, new beliefs, new schedules, and, what appears to be, a new version of yourself that you’re not fully in-tune with yet. You might spread your wings in a new endeavor and, for the first time, actually fall because your loving, encouraging parents who you should have appreciated more weren’t there to keep you from getting hurt. Everyone around you seems to have met their bridesmaids on day one but you spend Friday nights watching The Office in your dorm, longing for the glorious friends you had been blessed with at home. You try to become as involved as possible, but it still doesn’t feel fully right because this has yet to become your place and these people have yet to become your people. As a result, you find yourself being a timid, watered-down version of your usually vibrant self. You go to church every Sunday and a campus ministry every Wednesday, but it doesn’t even feel like you’re praying to the same God who so faithfully held your heart at home.
Give yourself grace.
Every single thing about your life just changed. What worked at home isn’t necessarily going to work here, whether that be in your prayer life, friendships, communication with family, or taking care of yourself. Give yourself grace in the transition. Feel the season you’re in and, as crazy as it sounds, treasure it because you are going to look back in wonder at what the Lord did in a season that seemed totally stagnant and dry.
“Yet in far-off places they will remember Me.” -Zechariah 10:9
So from someone who took her entire freshman year to figure it out, consider these steps to beat the learning curve:
1. Stop waiting to be invited. Stop showing up to events waiting for someone else to draw you out of your shell. You’re not auditioning. You already have the part. Be exactly who He made you to be and show up as that person, not waiting for someone to call you to step into it.
2. Invite people in. Be the friend you wish you had. You’d be surprised how many people crave authentic friendship when they put on the persona that they already have it. Make people feel invited to be the fullest versions of themselves, not copies of friends you had at home.
3. Plan fun things. Small day trips, game nights, picnics at the local park, walks on a trail, watercolor painting, movie nights, build a fort, watch the sunset, go to every sporting event possible. There are fun and cheap things to do that don’t require sacrificing your morals.
4. Spend time outside. Your dorm room and the library can consume you. Walls were created with human height in mind, but the outdoors were imagined by an infinite Creator. Take a walk or do homework under some trees. Remember how small we are and how big He is.
5. Don’t quit on your prayer routine or reading. First, accept that your routine will have to change and it’s going to take time to figure out the rhythm but do not stop. Do it even when you don’t feel like it. That creates solid faith and the fruitfulness will be seen in due time.
6. Don’t fly under the radar at campus ministries. It’s so tempting to arrive as it’s starting and leave immediately after, running back to your dorm to do homework or call your parents. But stay the extra five, meet some people, exchange numbers, make lunch plans. You can’t expect authentic community and friendship if you don’t allow the chance for conversation. And get involved in freshmen small groups- you’re all in the same boat!!
7. Volunteer. This was such an integral part of my weekly routine at home but I forgot about it my first semester away! Whatever you’re passionate about, don’t throw it to the side because chances are you won’t pick it up again. It’ll fill your heart, keep you focused on what matters, and help avoid the selfishness that inevitably results from a college schedule. Make time for what matters.
8. Call home. Be honest with your parents about how you’re doing and talk to them as regularly as possible. Use this as an opportunity to grow closer to them. Go out and experience, but do not lose touch with the people who know you, made it all happen, and love you with their whole beings. You both need it more than you know.
9. Don’t compromise on the things you said you wouldn’t do. Make a list, write it down if you need to, of things that you will not do- whether it be premarital sex, underage drinking, etc. So many people don’t firmly set standards for themselves and everything quickly becomes permissible. Know beforehand what you will and won’t do, that way it’s not a question when it comes up.
10. Be okay being alone. Don’t get me wrong, say yes to new things and meet lots of new people, but you have to be okay by yourself. College is often the first time you’re really by yourself and it’s an opportunity to do some deep soul-searching, seeing who you are without the identity of your family or hometown. It might crush you at first, but a new, more free creation will come from it.
11. Find an adult mentor on campus. Seriously life-savers and the reason I didn’t transfer. My scholarship program manager and academic advisor were my go-to resources for all academic and emotional questions as I navigated my first year away. They will come in handy more than you think and you provide purpose to their job. So go to office hours more than you academically need to!
12. Keep going to church every Sunday. Make this a non-negotiable, like the opposite of the other list I talked about in #9. Stop comparing it to your church at home- the Holy Spirit is alive and working in them all. It can’t become a home if you don’t attend regularly. We are designed for the Sabbath and for community! Also, try daily services. Going to church everyday (or at least a couple times a week) will change your life.
13. Join a Bible study and dive deep. Dive deep in the word by continuing to study independently and daily. The word of God is alive and active, coming to penetrate your soul and change your very self! Dive deep in friendship. Grab coffee with your leader, carpool with girls in your study, and make other plans with them to grow in friendship. Walk through this transition together and have vulnerable conversations.
14. Hang out with older girls. Seriously the greatest gifts! Freshmen are often so excited for their independence that they subconsciously sacrifice their morals and make decisions they’ll regret. Upperclassmen, however, have often outgrown the wild stage and acknowledge that we all crave deep friendship! They want to love on you because they know how hard freshman year can be.
15. Stop clinging. He has a new song for you. Don’t limit God and think His best has already happened. Friendships, extracurricular involvements, spirituality- the best is yet to come. Walk forward with open hands.
16. Learn as much as you can. You’re paying a lot to be there so build a good resume of things that are meaningful to you and complimentary to your dreams. These don’t have to be the best four years of your life. So mainly being a student is okay. Study hard but focus more on your passions than the GPA.
In letting go, walking by faith into what He has for you, you will find yourself a whole new creation by May. Maybe a little rough around the edges, but definitely a heart beating more with the Lord’s and an identity in Him, apart from the world. You’ll have new wounds but ones that you have carried for far too long will have healed as you see the good things, He has for you.
You might not love college yet and that is so okay. It’s not so much about your relationship with your college, wherever you end up, because at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter where you are. It just matters how much you lean into the Lord and how you embrace the season He has you in, no matter how empty and stagnant it may seem.
“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:8-9
Do not become weary in prayer. Tell Him how your heart REALLY feels, rather than putting on a fake heart of praise. Stay disciplined in faith, not despite the icky feeling in your heart, but through that. God doesn’t expect us to stay in the honeymoon phase with Him forever. You will reap a harvest because He is always growing new fruit.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” -John 10:10
Your daily life right now might be anything but echoes of His abundance. Pray each day though to just see glimpses of the abundant life He has for you, one that won’t be fully received until we’re Home. The more you see His abundance, the more you’ll seek it.
He has good things for you. Being homesick is hard and it is real and it is good. Growing pains should not be resented or avoided because it is through them that we discover who He created us to be, each day becoming more like the person we’ll be when we come fully face to face with Him.
He is with you and He is for you, you only need to be still. You are cared for, you are held, and you are crazy loved. I’m walking alongside you and cheering you on. The best is yet to come.
This is dedicated to Bridget McMillian and Dr. Casey Cockrell-Stuart, who celebrated me at my worst, pushed me to my best, helped me see who I was becoming, and kept me from transferring. I wouldn’t have this new song without y’all.
Note from Team LO: Hi friends! Something that we are so passionate about here at LO is helping college students grow and realize their purpose and the impact that they can have on their campus. That’s why we are SO excited to feature this post from one of our favorite college girls, Meagan Harkins. If you’ve read this post and realize you want a strong community to provide the fuel for you to live out your purpose on campus, today is your lucky day! We are opening up the doors to LO Fam tomorrow BUT if you’ve read this far, HERE is the link to join today (shhhhh). Best part? We’re giving you one MONTH free…Merry Christmas!