Our son will be going off to college out of state in the fall and I'm terribly worried about the spiritual environment he will face. It is a state university. He is serving the Lord now but I know kids often lose their faith in college. How can I make sure that doesn't happen to Tom?
- EP from Springfield
Assessing the potential danger (Part 1)
I believe you are facing a dilemma shared by most all parents whose children begin the transition out of their control and protection. After high school they will go on to college, military service, or full time jobs. They will move, get married and make their own decisions. Hopefully you have prepared them for their launching but this time is never easy.
One way to assess the potential danger of your son losing his faith is to ask yourself what spiritual challenges he has already faced. You say he is serving the Lord now but at what level? How protected was he? Did he attend public school where he was exposed to a whole gamut of beliefs or only Christian schools? Does he have non-Christian as well as Christian friends?
What about his personality? Is he a follower or a leader? During high school, how susceptible was he to peer-pressure? Did he exhibit rebellion? Do you sense he is just busting to get free of your control? Are you willing to talk to other parents or adults who know him and will give you an honest opinion about his faith level which may be different than your own?
The answers to some of these questions will give you an idea how much of a struggle he may have when he hits a college campus. He is going to encounter new ideas, various lifestyles and a myriad of choices and you will not be there to filter any of it. Actually, that is part of the design of college and can be a good thing. Yes his faith will probably be challenged but therein is a chance to deepen and mature it. It has to happen sometime.
Do you have to sit by and watch from afar and hope it all turns out for the best? No, there is plenty you can do to maximize your son's chances to grow in his faith rather than chuck it.
Next: What are some good choices you can make?
Dos and don'ts (Part 2)
Do start investigating his new school from a spiritual perspective. While it was probably chosen for academic reasons, it has a spiritual atmosphere too and you need to know what that is. You may be surprised how many good spiritual choices he may have when he gets there. There are some very good campus ministries such as Campus Crusade for Christ but there are also many others. Which ones are the strongest on his campus?
Do discuss your fears honestly with your son. Come right out and ask him where he is spiritually and what fears he may also share with you about maintaining a commitment to Christ. Have a frank discussion about his faith and the challenge that will probably occur at some point. Let him know that he needs to be prepared not just academically but spiritually too.
Don't do all his spiritual homework for him. If you have to sit on your hands or bite your tongue, do that! You are losing control but you still have influence and you don't want to lose that by trying to continue to take control. He is the decision maker on a new church, how to keep up with devotions, which campus ministry, if any, to join.
Don't expect him to make all the same decisions you would make if you were in his shoes. Therefore, once he gets to school, don't nag about whether he's read his bible yet today or whether he has made it yet to his new church or witnessed to his room-mate.
Don't give up hope if you see any danger signs. He is sorting things out and may have to go through a process to come back around to what he thought he believed when he entered college. This is the time for questioning but, guess what? Truth can take the scrutiny.
Next: How to get him through college more than a conqueror?
The Parent's secret weapon (Part 3)
I've heard it said before that a child who wants to go to hell has to scratch and claw their way over the back of a praying mother or father to make it. In other words, God is very attentive to parent's prayers. They are very effective. Pray, pray, pray. And then more prayer.
Targeted prayer is the key. I suggest that when your son moves into his new dorm room or apartment you hold a "house blessing" and let Tom be the one to perform it. Before you leave to return home, walk the campus and pray as you walk. Ask God to bring revival to this campus and to bring favor to every ministry that promotes the gospel.
Find out the name of every professor your son has classes with and call them out to God by name. Pray over the course catalog for the right choices in which classes to take. Pray for godly friends to come into your son's life and for a church where he can grow and mature. Pray that evil will stay far from him and that God will protect him from anything he can't handle.
Prayer is not subject to time or distance. Prayer enables you to do something worthwhile but keeps you out of the realm of interference or inappropriate meddling. This prayer will be as good for you as for Tom. This is your time to trust God for your son. It will help you make it through your own transition of pushing the little birdie out of the nest. There will never be a time for a parent of not caring but the time does come to let go of the responsibility.
Trust that God loves Tom more than you do. He sees into the future and knows the best way to get Tom launched in his destiny. That may be a straight shot or his path may meander a bit but God will get him there eventually. Remember; "He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)