Among the many new adventures that begin this time of year, some families are preparing to pack suitcases or cars to make the long-anticipated journey to deliver a son or daughter to college. The strenuous hurdles of the college acceptance process are behind. Ahead are the college gates, the dorm room, and for some students the first taste of life almost without rules, restrictions, or adult supervision.
Once the goodbye hugs are over, the promises to Skype each other have been made, and the parents drive away leaving one lone freshman on the curb, what then? Beyond the obvious practical steps – like the probable purchase of the mini-fridge – what can families do to help their college-bound offspring, and themselves, face the challenges of this large step into independence?
College has always been challenging, but these days it is apparently more so. A national study shows that an increasing number of college students report feeling stressed. The demands of paying for their education, stringent academic standards, competition in athletics, and worry over preparing for career opportunities in an economy in which there are few jobs, are some of the concerns weighing on their minds. In the social sphere, the media stereotype of the contemporary college experience, emphasizing the extremes of binge-drinking and other harmful behavior, may make the social aspect of college also seem daunting.
I’ve found, as a student and parent, that the teachings of Christian Science can provide the spiritual foundation for a progressive college experience. The Bible and the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy, provide many demonstrable assurances of God’s protection and guidance, which can prove valuable as students attempt to navigate academic and social challenges on their own for the first time. And even if students feel they don’t need religion, or even much input from their parents, God will never abandon them.
First and foremost, that apparently lone freshman standing on the curb, watching his or her parents drive away, is not alone. The truth that God is with every individual is a marvelous starting point for parents desiring to provide spiritual support for their sons or daughters (or for individuals beginning any new endeavor). It takes only a willingness to acknowledge and turn to that presence to prove it in our lives.
The Bible tells how Moses was assured that God would be with him when he faced the new challenge of leading the children of Israel. “I will certainly be with you,” is what God told Moses (Ex. 3:12, New King James Version), and this assurance was proved when God provided manna in the wilderness and parted the Red Sea. Though Moses felt unequal to the strenuous task he’d been given, he was willing to listen to God and acknowledge His presence.
Gaining a sense of God’s ever-presence – that God will certainly be with those we love – is fundamental in demonstrating the spiritual dominion that enables each individual to feel the intelligent guidance of God, divine Mind, whether on a campus or elsewhere.
Mary Baker Eddy emphasized the ever-presence of God in one of her poems, “Mother’s Evening Prayer,” which was set to music as a hymn. It begins:
O gentle presence, peace and joy and power;
O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour,
Thou Love that guards the nestling’s faltering flight!
Keep Thou my child on upward wing tonight.
(“Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 207).
Of course, most college students will soon find companionship in their new environment. There are, or will be, roommates, dorm advisers, new friends, and relationships. Though college is believed by many to be a time of experimentation and risk-taking, the prayer that acknowledges God’s ever-presence can help protect students from making choices that harm them. Our family has found this to be true.
Demonstrating the presence of God in the midst of the challenging, diverse, multifaceted experience called college makes it a progressive process that will lead to rewarding lives and careers, long after students have left the mini-fridge behind.