Although college was one of the most interesting and influential times in my life, it certainly wasn’t the easiest time in my life. It wasn’t that I was a party girl. I had worked for four years before going to college, so by the time I got there, I was serious about getting my education. And it wasn’t that I had trouble with my classes, though I did have to work hard.
The hard part about college was living out my relationship with Christ.
Basically, when you live with a large group of people (oh, say 120 of them) twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you can’t fake Christianity for very long. I mean, really, how many times can a normal person forgive their roommate for stealing all their cereal before they snap?
It wasn’t that I wanted to be a hypocrite. It was that I was an immature Christian. Carnal. Selfish.
Because God is good—and WAY smarter than me—He put me in the perfect church. It was a small home church, most Sundays attended by only me, the couple who pastored, and a handful of guys who for whatever reasons were uncomfortable attending a more traditional church. I had attended small churches before, but I had never been in one quite this small and personal. And by small and personal, I mean that I got a lot of one-on-one ministry that wouldn’t have been available to me in a large church setting. In other words, I couldn’t hide there either.
For three and a half years, I was in a God-powered spotlight pretty much 24 hours a day.
My evangelist friend Ken Helser says that “home is where we have to live out what we like to talk about.” And that perfectly describes the situation I was in. I had church leadership constantly challenging me to mature so that I could minister to the people I was living with at college and I had a dorm full of people at college—roommates, suitemates, friends, and student workers—who judged God by how they saw me living. Pressure!
My relief came from something God taught me.
When I walk with Jesus, He shares His umbrella.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels like their life is constantly full of storms. In college, those storms were often in the form of juggling school work, a work-study job, and a job off-campus. But I also faced one of the most dysfunctional relationships (and break-ups) I’ve ever been through. And having a roommate take a bunch of cocaine, come home and threaten to kill me, and then overdose and almost die.
I don’t always get to choose the storms, but I can choose whether or not I stay under the umbrella.
One of the charming things about my church is that we have the most loving hospitality team I’ve ever seen. Parking lot attendants, greeters, ushers—they all go out of their way to make sure that everyone feels welcome. One of my sweetest memories of being a new attender there is the first rainy Sunday that I attended. As soon as I opened my car door, one of the ushers was waiting there with an umbrella to walk me into the building. I mean, Wow—is that service or what?!
That’s Jesus. He stands in the rain with a big umbrella, waiting for us to fall into step next to Him.
Another thing this analogy helped me to understand is that salvation does not necessarily equal deliverance. How many of us prayed to accept Christ and thought that it would somehow magically make temptation less tempting? Or that it would immediately remove our cravings for whatever it is that we’re addicted to? I think I can safely say that most of us didn’t become perfect overnight. We just gradually trust God more and more. And as we trust Him, we learn to love Him. And as we learn to love Him, we learn to obey Him. And in the process, he refines those temptations and addictions and cravings out of us.
The umbrella analogy works with this scenario, too. How many of us come in out of the rain and are immediately dry? None of us. Drying out takes time. The more time we spend under the umbrella with Jesus, the more we dry out.
But what about those of us who can’t seem to stay under the umbrella?
James 1:8 says that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. And in my case, that’s definitely the truth. I like being under the umbrella with Jesus—safe and dry. But sometimes, something shiny will catch my eye and I’ll dart out into the rain to see if it’s worth getting wet. It never is. But because of my human-ness, I just can’t help myself.
In Romans 7, Paul talks about this. He says that he wants to do what’s good (stay under the umbrella) but that he just can’t make himself do it. And he doesn’t want to do what’s bad (going out in the storm) but that he just can’t help but do it. But then he gives the remedy: Jesus Christ will deliver him from this pattern of sin and death.
That tells me that the more time I spend with Jesus, the more time I will want to spend with Him and eventually, the pattern will be broken and I will stay under the umbrella with Him!