When I was a student I remember chatting with a guy in the local pub who told me, “The fact that you’re a Christian makes every guy in here want to sleep with you.”
“Why?” I retorted, embarrassed to be feeling flattered by such blatant objectification, but liking it all the same.
“Because you’re not supposed to have sex are you? So you’re a conquest. You’re supposed to be one of those holier than thou people that don’t do anything.”
“I’m not like that. I mean, I am. But it’s not like I can’t do anything.” I mumbled.
“Then what can good Christian girls do?” he smirked.
“Bake?” I responded, lamely.
Then, a few weeks later, a Christian guy I knew looked me up and down and told me that, “Guys might be on a diet but they still check out the menu.”
“What does that mean?” I queried.
“Just don’t try so hard.”
“I didn’t know I was.” I mumbled. Embarrassed, yet again.
In fact, when it came to relationships, confusion and shame were my two closest friends during my early twenties. I also felt excitement, desire and despair, but mainly it was the uncertainty around how I could be radically Christ’s and also free to be me that lay at the heart of most of my issues. That, and a weird obsession with the Spice Girls. But that’s a whole other story – this is about you, not my dysfunctional past!
So what are your questions, hopes and concerns about relationships as you step into uni life? Do you do ‘Tinder’? Do you do parties? Do you date non-Christians? Do you date at all? And then there’s the whole area of sex. If sex is consenting, is it OK if it’s not with someone you’re married to? What does being a virgin even mean in today’s world of wall to wall digital sexual content? What does the way of Jesus mean for any of this?
Of course, it might be that the idea of meeting someone and being in a romantic relationship feels off the cards for you right now. You’ll have enough going on with sorting out where you need to be for your course and how to stop your flat mate eating all your food. It’s possible to fully enjoy uni life (and life in general) without having a plus one! But the chances are you’ll have questions about sex and relationships, and how life as a disciple of Jesus is played out at uni. So here are four thoughts to help you on your journey:
The most important relationship you will ever have is with God, through Jesus. This doesn’t mean other relationships don’t matter. It just means that you’re already connected to your most significant other. So lean into God because he is the source of everything you need and desire. Good stuff begins in God’s presence, and this includes wise thinking about your choices and relationships. Whatever is on your heart right now, whatever questions you may have about your identity, worth or choices, bring them all to God. Remember that you are known and loved by God deeply. No matter your questions, insecurities or mistakes, your first identity is as a beloved child of God, so start by leaning into the one who loves you most.
Scripture is full of wisdom for godly living, which means living a life that pleases God. In Colossians 1:10-12 Paul is praying for these young Christians to know the will of God so that they can live powerfully and effectively as Christ’s disciples. But for Paul this ‘knowing God’s will’ isn’t an immediate download. Paul’s talking about the important work we do when we keep seeking God through his Word, his Spirit and other Christians. It’s work that builds our power to resist temptation and choose freedom. Don’t look for which Bible verse tells you not to go on Tinder, or whether it’s OK to date someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus. Be prepared to do the hard work of asking God to reveal to you his vision for relationships and dare to ask him his will for your relationships. What will happen is that, as well as starting to understand what you need to do in order to honour God, you’ll also discover that you’re growing the spiritual muscles that will help you to live it out.
Sometimes the Church has made it out that the only way to live radically for Jesus is to slink off into a holy bubble with other Christians. It’s a load of rubbish and not Biblical at all. It matters that you show up in your own life (by taking care of yourself and responsibility for your actions and choices) and in the lives of the people you’re living alongside (by being compassionate and supportive). How are other students going to get a taste for what we’ve found in Jesus if we’re not prepared to let them see it up close and personal in us? What if being honest with non-Christian friends about wanting to live up to God’s ideas for your relationships is one way that they’re drawn into a curiosity about him? So don’t be afraid to go to parties, engage in discussion and hang out with a wide range of people. Just do it with authenticity and, if need be, accountability.
In ancient times the Greek army would find the wildest horses in the mountains and bring them home to be broken in. After months of training they would be divided into categories: some discarded, some for carrying heavy burdens, some for ordinary duty, but only a few graduated as war horses. A War Horse never ceased to be determined and strong but it stopped being wild and rebellious. It became a creature of incredible power under authority, strength under control. The way of Jesus is a wild way. It’s a path of radical surrender to a Master who alone can give us the gift of life in all its fullness. But it’s a way of life that often does mean we have to choose differently to the people around us, and this can feel challenging and even isolating. So make sure that as you define with Jesus your practices of engagement (what will I do?) and resistance (what won’t I do?) you find a church family to cheer you on and help you work out how to live – free and strong – as a beloved child of God.
And if you’re ever in Preston, come and say hi! I’d love to share more about my love of the Spice Girls…
By Rachel Gardner
As well as being the founder of Romance Academy, Rachel is the President of the Girls’ Brigade in England & Wales, a Director at Youthscape and author of ‘The Girl De-Construction Project’. She has recently moved with her family to Preston to be part of a church plant in Preston Minster.