Everyone’s path to belief and understanding is unique. At many points in life, we feel pulled to challenge our previous assumptions about life. Undergoing dramatic life changes often lead us to those points where we question that which we previously understood. Faith is definitely one of the systems we might bring into question.
In May 2022, I will graduate from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with my degree in Marketing. Needless to say, college changed me. I grew my hair out, I pierced my nose, and got some pretty big tattoos. Not only did my physical appearance change, but so did my perspective on the world, Christianity, and my faith. It is not out of the ordinary for a college student to challenge the beliefs that they were raised with as a kid. However, everyone's path to a new way of thinking and believing is unique to them. This is my story of wrestling with faith as a college student.
When doubt enters in
Let me paint a picture: a young 18 year old former pastor's daughter goes off to college. She is living on her own for the first time, away from her friends and what she was familiar with. She wants to get involved in the community, to be known, and to be loved. What better place for her than a student ministry right? Maybe not.
Ironically, what made me question my Christian beliefs were the student ministries I discovered on campus. I tried nearly every one of them. I got really invested in one in particular. I participated in the small groups and Bible studies. I even joined the praise team. The more involved I got with this group the more I got turned off from the church, and even Christianity.
What disgusted me the most was the hypocrisy I found within the ministry. The student pastors preached about loving your neighbor, and accepting each other despite our differences. However, they did not practice what they were preaching. To me it seemed like they only accepted people who looked liked them, talked like them, and acted like them. Instead of being focused on loving people like Jesus would, they were more concerned with keeping up their ministry’s aesthetic.
I watched students get shut down for questioning teachings and Biblical stories. I was one of them. My perspective and questions seemed to upset the leaders, and I quickly became disgruntled with the ministry. Still, the toxic ministry environment did not rock my faith right off the bat. I would leave the ministry, go back to my dorm, and question if the God I loved was the same one they were worshipping. The God and Jesus I know does not make people feel like outcasts. In fact, Jesus was an outcast. He ate with sinners, and was even hated by the religious leaders of his time.
Spring semester of my freshman year I decided to try other church groups. However this time around, I started to really question the legitimacy of my faith. Did I want to be a Christian? Did I really believe in God, or the miracles of the Bible? The answer to those questions was “no” at the time. I did not. How could I believe in those things when my college classes were teaching against it, and when the church wasn’t being a good representation of it?
From there on, I decided I could believe in what my eyes could see and what my hands could feel. I only believed in what the physical world had to offer. However, my new beliefs left me feeling hollow. I felt like my life didn’t matter if there was no higher meaning.
My sophomore year of college came around and I was openly atheistic. Even though it was a breath of fresh air to discover beliefs that were my own and not just my parents, I still felt unsatisfied with the new world view I now had. Being an atheist made me feel very alone. It made me feel like my actions didn’t matter, but the most heartbreaking thing about believing that way was it made me lose my self worth.
Coming back to faith
I had a childhood friend die over the summer of 2020. The thought of her being entirely gone left me perplexed and utterly devastated. How could a young person with so much life and love just fade away into the earth. That is when my beliefs started to change. I realized that there is more to a person than what our eyes can see. We are more than flesh and bones. Each and every one of us has a unique and creative spirit that God has instilled in us.
Going into my senior year of college I would call myself a Christian, however I am not the type of Christian I was before college. My faith now is my own. It is something that I had to cultivate for myself, not something that was given to me. I still have my disagreements with the church, but I have my disagreements with every establishment. Nothing is going to be perfect, not faith, not church, not a person, and that is why we have Jesus.
I think that is part of the beauty of being a Christian: Accepting the fact that you are not perfect, and you are not expected to be. Someone on the outside looking in might think that the church and God has high expectations of us, and if we fall short then we are downcast. However, that is not true. God loves us so much that God would enter into our human experience so that we might not be separated. God gave us Jesus so that we may find him, and have a relationship with him. If you ask me now, having a relationship with the God who created the universe and the world around us is one of the most treasured things a human being can have.
Madison Myers is a student at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, majoring in marketing. She has traveled to a majority of America's National Parks and is eager to see them all.