Starting University

Leaving home

Leaving home

My friend's daughter, Rachel, begins her Freshman year at the university this Fall. In advance of her leaving home, my buddy asked if I would offer Rachel a few words of advice and encouragement. After putting pen to paper, I thought it might be helpful to put an edited version here as well. 

Dearest Rachel:

Congratulations! You’ve crossed the last mandatory threshold of life and are beginning the important phase of figuring out how your skills and talents contribute to society. While you are prepared for this important step, it is not to be taken lightly but with thoughtful passion.  

Whether the words I share with you in these lines hit the mark or not, the humble seeking of counsel and prayer is a crucial practice to treasure and repeat. Thank you for the privilege of speaking a few words to you on this auspicious occasion.  

My thoughts for you are grouped into three concepts: First, there is always another side to any argument. Second, the important things in life happen at the edges of life. And third, walk closely with your Father in heaven. Now, let me briefly expand on these three ideas.   

As simple as it is, I entered college not realizing there were multiple ways to look at important ideas. In fact, I thought what I had been taught at church and at home were inviolable principles that were absolute in their truth. Consequently, I was caught completely off guard when I heard learned professors take educated and well-reasoned positions to the contrary of what I thought was true, especially where matters of Christian faith were concerned.  

The dynamic I’m describing is what’s called the ability to think. More specifically, I entered higher education with the ability to think, but I didn’t have the skill of thinking critically. When others presented opposing views, I felt threatened. Eventually, there was enough threat to what I assumed was true as a Christian that I had a crisis of faith. In short, after my faith was questioned enough, by a diversity of folks of considerable intelligence and training, I realized I knew what I believed but I had little confidence in why I believed. I had meaningful structures of faith, but the foundation of my faith became suspect under scrutiny and differing viewpoints.  

I didn’t throw out what I believed, nor did I dismiss what I was being taught in class. Rather, I went and looked for myself by examining trusted sources. I stayed at this until I was certain why I believed what I believed. Obviously, the secret ingredient to this recipe is discerning “trusted sources.” Be diligent here. What you have been taught wasn't thought up overnight. Be careful before you retool your current beliefs and values, but don't be so shallow as to not carefully consider.  

Rachel, the principles you have been taught about following Jesus Christ are true. But to this point, much of what you have been taught you have accepted because someone of importance and influence told you it was true. But now, you have become responsible to think for yourself. This is a wonderful and onerous privilege—so much so, it is the reason I’m devoting a majority of my words to this idea.  

You will learn to think and reason while you are in college. Many will tell you that faith is irrational, the implication being that it is therefore suspect or unworthy of your intelligence, devotion, or reliance. By the pure definition of “scientific,” this is to some extent true. Faith cannot be reproduced systematically with unvarying results in a controlled environment. In a close corollary to scientific methodology, the standards of your faith also appear to violate historical methodology with some regularity. To the narrow logic of the scientific or historical methods, this makes faith irrational, illogical, suspect, and unreliable.  

Science is about empiricism and methodology about systems. This is not the case for the human soul. However you determine to evaluate mankind, one thing we as humans are not is logical all of the time. If you have seen the “Star Trek” movies, the character of Spock is the portrayal of a totally rational being. The crux of his relationship with the other characters is whether or not he is capable of emotion, irrational reasoning, i.e. a hunch, or of intuition.  

Faith is not entirely about the mind, nor is entirely about the emotions. Faith engages the full aspect of your humanity: body, soul, and spirit. To reduce faith to scientific reason or standardized methodology is to limit your evaluation of faith by at least two-thirds.  

The Bible states that it is the Word of God and that it will not fade away (cf. Isaiah 40:8). Of course, you can’t prove something by what it states about itself, and this takes me back to your responsibility to think critically. Many will dismiss what you believe about Jesus Christ. Many more will question. Vastly more will discount your faith as a priority by the way they conduct their lives.  

The question is: How will you live as a thoughtful, reasonable, and responsible person?  

Second: People are herd animals. We run in packs and groups and cliques just like all higher awareness animals do. There were cliques in high school. There will be cliques in college—and there will be cliques for the remainder of your interactive days on the planet. There isn’t anything wrong with a group or being part of one. After all, God lives in community and we are created in His image.  

So this idea I’m espousing isn’t about isolation or independence, rather it is about realizing that the important ideas and concepts in life occur at the edges of everything. If you want to be like everyone, then make it your priority to be like everyone. But if you desire to grow and guide and find the grander, more exciting, more stimulating concepts over the course of your days, then pay attention to those ideas and those people who are on the edges of things.  

Every group can be charted on a bell curve. The masses occupy and define the middle of the bell curve. This is what’s called normal, or standard. Inside the sorority of your choosing will be a bell curve—and the strong, almost overwhelming pressure will be to place yourself solidly in the middle. This isn’t bad, per se, but if this is where you determine to be, make your decision knowing that the important decisions—the decisions that will ultimately define life for the masses—are made on the edges of any group.  

Finally: Walk with—live closely in connection with—your heavenly Father. There is no substitute for a regular demonstration of your devotion to Him. Just like every relationship of importance in your life is founded upon time spent and experiences shared, so is your relationship with God in heaven founded and established. Live in vital union with Him—just like you do with your best friends. Read about Him. Go places with Him. Listen to Him, and talk with Him. 

Matthew 6:33 begins, “Seek first the Kingdom of God….” This passage can be conveyed like this: “Seek and keep on seeking on a regular and recurring basis the Kingdom of God where your Father in heaven reigns supreme in your commitment.” The passage continues to declare that if you do this, everything else of importance will be added to your life.  

Rachel, thank you for reading my thoughts and considering them. I know they are long and direct. Please forgive my many words, but know that these concepts are the pillars upon which I have built my life. They have served me well through tumult and calm, thick and thin, heartache and joy, disrepute and honor. The beauty of such principles is that they are not singular, but common to all of our lives as human beings.  

I have included in this letter my contact information. Here’s a deal I’ll offer to you should you need it: Any time. Any reason. Any place that you determine I might be of support, or perspective, or encouragement to you, I am available. You will have my strictest confidentiality and whatever skills or wisdom or resources I can bring aboard to assist you.  

I wish you all the best in this grandest endeavor of life that will set you on course for the rest of your life. Enjoy. Live fully. Embrace the edges, and walk humbly and faithfully with your Father in heaven.  

Bless you, Rachel. One of my favorite passages follows my signature.


Preston Gillham

 Colossians 2:6-10 Living Bible (TLB)

6 And now just as you trusted Christ to save you, trust him, too, for each day’s problems; live in vital union with him. 7 Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him. See that you go on growing in the Lord, and become strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught. Let your lives overflow with joy and thanksgiving for all he has done.

8 Don’t let others spoil your faith and joy with their philosophies, their wrong and shallow answers built on men’s thoughts and ideas, instead of on what Christ has said. 9 For in Christ there is all of God in a human body; 10 so you have everything when you have Christ, and you are filled with God through your union with Christ. He is the highest Ruler, with authority over every other power.