If shame had a face I think it would kind of look like mine/
If it had a home would it be my eyes/
Would you believe me if I said I am tired of this/
Now here we go now one more time*
I looked around the room. People were huddled to the ground with their eyes closed. Some were lifting their hands up. Others were clustered together holding each other. I looked around and suddenly I wanted to get out of there. I felt like an outsider, like I was in the wrong place. I knew I was going to be found out. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I just knew it.
I tried to climb your steps/
I tried to chase you down/
I tried to see how low I could get down to the ground/
I tried to earn my way/
I tried to change this mind/
You better believe I tried to beat this…
I had enlisted in a one-year program that gives you real world experience working with and ministering to college students. I had raised all the money I needed for the year and had moved across the country. I had met my team and moved into an apartment with two girls I had never met before. None of the inconvenience mattered to me. I wanted more than anything to make a difference in the world. I wanted to share with my generation this hope that I had. So I joined and I moved and well, I fell apart.
I was sitting alone in the lobby of a dorm leafing through a pile of “spiritual interest” surveys my team had taken that I was supposed to follow-up on. You know, talk to the students, see what their interests were, invite the Christians to our group meeting, see if I could hang out with the non-Christians. Easy, right? Wrong.
I’m not exactly the most outgoing person. I don’t mind talking to people and I’m not deathly shy, but going door to door? No one had told me it was going to be like this. I was so terrified my hands were shaking. My stomach was sick. But the worse part of it all was I felt fake. And when I finally gathered enough courage to knock on a few doors, the students could tell. I sounded like a tape recording playing my monologue every time a door opened. It was horrible.
The months passed and somehow a few students looked past my fear and decided to hang out with me, but I was still struggling. It wasn’t enough. My leader told me I needed to reach out more. I needed to do this and that. I tried. I wanted to be the best witness ever. I wanted to make a difference. So I tried. But then I got tired of trying. I met with students so I could cross it off my calendar, so I could tell my leader I was doing more than hiding out at Starbucks. And all the while I felt like any moment … any moment, my cover was going to be blown and I would be found out.
Will this end it goes on and on over and over and over again
I walked onto campus one day with a heavy heart. I knew I couldn’t do this anymore. But more than anything I felt like I had failed. Worse, I felt like I had failed God. If I had such a hard time telling people about Him, then what was the use of me being on earth? Wasn’t that the whole point?
As I walked I noticed the students hurrying by me. I saw the clouds floating across the afternoon sky. I heard laughter and music coming from the dorms. I blinked back the tears of failure that threatened to fall. And I heard a voice. Not a voice that was audible, but a voice in my heart.
Over and over it played in my head: “follow me.” I started to cry.
"But God I thought I was following you." And then it hit me. I had been following what I thought would be following God. Not that campus ministry wasn’t following God but I was so caught up in the agenda, so caught up in making a difference I had forgotten the point of it all. My relationship with God. And my relationship with my friends.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30-31)
I had been spiraling down for months trying desperately to stay afloat. My teammates were pros, and I was horrible. I had compared myself to them and hated myself for it. I had tried to do better. I had met with numerous students. But I never asked God what He wanted me to do. I was too busy for that. And too stressed! Somehow in the process I had turned God into this unsatisfied tyrant who was constantly disappointed in me.
It wasn’t until that afternoon when God pulled me out of my failure mode that I realized my purpose on campus. I thought about Erin who had never opened a Bible before that year and who was so hungry for something real in her life. I thought about Adam who told me he didn’t have time for God but who needed a friend. I thought about all of my new friends and suddenly I realized that they were why I was there. Not for some agenda. Not to change the world. My purpose was to love them as I would love myself.
That night when we were praying as a team I looked around the room and for a fleeting moment I had that old feeling. You don’t belong here. And then I realized that none of us belonged there. That all of us were there because of God’s kindness to us.
*(lyrics to “Sick Cycle Carousel” by Lifehouse)