I’m not much for crying. Let’s face it: real tears that come from real pain are ugly and consuming. You gasp and gulp for air, your mouth turns into two slimy, shapeless blobs of flesh, your eyes are wet slits almost hidden by puffy skin, and your face looks like a child applied pink and purple make-up randomly and liberally.
Really, it’s something that I try to do in private whenever possible.
But that was not the situation at my first devotional my freshman year at the University of Oklahoma Student Bible Center. This was a public place where everyone around me was worshipping God, and all I could think about was how much I missed my home church, sitting in the pew beside my mom and siblings. So I sat, unable to sing, unable to even open my mouth for fear that a gulping sob would slip out, with tears streaming down my cheeks.
I was sitting in a group of people, and I was desperately lonely. That’s how I felt, and so I cried.
And I didn’t go back.
I went to worship services at Westside Church of Christ, the church associated with the Bible center, a few times, but it was huge and overwhelming for a small-town girl, so I didn’t get involved. Instead, I pieced together my spiritual life while I was in college: a patchwork of visits to a tiny congregation about 20 minutes away where my aunt and uncle and their three young daughters worshipped, in-and-out visits to Westside, and trips back home. One of my best friends went to the Wesley center, associated with the Methodist church, so I visited with her sometimes. And I was more disciplined than I’ve ever been with my morning quiet time with God: I woke up early enough to read a chapter or so, paraphrase it and write my own plan of action for application, and write out my prayers for the day.
I thought this was good enough. And certainly I enjoyed the visits with my aunt and uncle, and I grew as an individual Christian during my college years.
But eight years later, I have no friends from college left. I have Facebook friends, sure, but nobody I talk to or visit. I truly believe that it’s because I didn’t overcome my pride in that first humiliating experience to go back to the Student Bible Center. If I had, I could have formed some friendships based on more than proximity to my dorm room or a love for vanilla root beer and Heath Ledger or a common goal of turning out some newspaper pages every day. Those bonds were easily dissolved once circumstances changed (although I do still love vanilla root beer).
Friends with whom you worship and study God’s Word, with whom you share common beliefs and values: these are friends that stand the tests of distance and time. It’s a bond that cannot be broken. You’re part of a network of churches and Christians, and you will continue to cross paths for the rest of your lives.
Lasting friendship requires diligent work, sacrifice, and yes, sometimes tears and humiliation. College is a tough time to stay faithful—we must seek out people who can give us that safe place—that “cloud of witnesses” that allows us to throw off the burdens of the world and focus only on Jesus (Hebrew 12:1). When we seek out these friends, we will be rewarded with encouragement and words of wisdom when we need it—that’s what Christian friends do (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
You might think your friends are great, but unless you share the common bond of Christ, that friendship is destined to die. God commands us to “be separate from them” (2 Corinthians 6:17). We must bind ourselves only to people who are going in the same direction as us: heaven. I didn’t yoke myself to anyone or any group during college. I had plenty of friends and activities, but no core group that I knew would always be close to my heart.
Relationships are so important. Don’t miss out on them because you’re scared. Reach out to Christians, and you’ll find that the connection gives you more strength than any of your easy, fun friendships. It will last, too, while the others will just fade away into nothing more than Facebook friends.