A friend and I approached a girl sitting on a bench one spring day on our college campus. We had the goal of cold turkey evangelism for a few afternoons every quarter. We would have a script prepared to start a conversation about eternal things, most specifically God. As we approached this student without batting an eye or even looking up she said a loud, clear “no”. Not a word had left our lips but she knew. Maybe we had a reputation around campus or maybe she just didn’t want to be bothered, but turned down, we left in search of our next potential conversation.
That is how it seemed to be on my college campus. I walked into my physiology classroom one afternoon after receiving a B- on a term paper. This professor did not like me. That was obvious. But on this particular day, after I sat down, middle of the room, my heart boiled up with dislike right back at her. I asked myself “can I love her today?” The answer was a resounding “no” and so up I went, just before she started the class. The paper was an interview of someone who had lived a long enough life to look back and answer the question “if I had it to do over, what would I do differently”. I called my grandmother, who lived 180 miles away, and we enjoyed a lengthy conversation. When I asked her the thesis question, without hesitation she said “I wish I had known Jesus earlier in my life. I would have done things differently.” It was her answer, so I wrote the paper. I was proud of my grandmother and I was not a terrible writer so the B- was a surprise and there were no other marks on the paper.
This summer I was able to visit briefly with a college pastor while my family and I were visiting the Oregon Coast. I was nervous to see him, mostly because looking back over the past ten years since I had seen him I have changed dramatically. I look a bit older, yes, but my heart and my mind seem almost as if they are new creations. I shared with him that I am different now, to God’s glory, and he stated the same. We both were able to talk about Jesus’ love and how we wish we could go back on campus and just love people differently.
With no critique on cold turkey evangelism (I believe it has it’s perfect time and need) I would love to know something about the girl who told us “no”. Was she hurting in a way that I could have reached out to her? Although I was young, anxious and hard headed, I really did care about my campus. I desired Jesus to have a front and center stage on my campus. Our campus ministry team was made up of young believers. We were young believers because we ourselves were young. What I know now compared to what I thought I knew then are two very different things.
And what if I could have reached more students with the love of Jesus so that they wouldn’t have to look back on their lives and wish they had known Jesus earlier or even at all. I do not look at my college years with regret for what I did and didn’t do, but I wish I had known how to love differently. I wouldn’t have been so scared to be friends with people different than me. I was friends with them, I just wouldn’t have been scared. I would have challenged a few more teachers and been willing to receive a few poorer grades than I did. I would have slowed down and cherished the conversations about Jesus I did have instead of rushing all the time to keep my head out of water.
I heard recently someone state that God is love therefore He cannot help but to love. He loves so desperately the students on my college campus before, during and after my five years there. He knows each one by name: the girl who said “no” and the professor who gave me a B-. He was present there even when I did or did not show up at my best. He saw my heart was good even when my tactics and ways were not always hitting the mark. He was at work in my faith and my mind to bring me to a place of redemption. He empowered me to start down the road to being who He has truly called me to be. He was proud to call me His even when I had little confidence to the title while thinking I needed to carry the weigh of an entire campus on my shoulders. God is gracious to me.
You may look back on your college years or are in them currently where you wonder if you should (have) loved differently. Maybe you are in a relationship or a ministry that God has called you to, but you know you are missing the mark. Maybe you are over your head in anxiety and perfection and have forgotten what you loved in the first place. Maybe you need to readjust your priorities or relive your memories in order to understand what God really does have for you.I believe that God does not require us for His love to be dispersed into the world but He delights in our partnership with Him to share His love with our classmates, our coworkers, our families, our friends and a few or more strangers along the way. Would you change? Be the person you want to be now and live a life that shouts God’s love no matter how your world receives it.