My uni days are something of a blur.
Not in a too-much-glory, can’t-stop-praying kinda way. Not quite. A platinum member of the local off-licence, I embraced every social opportunity with abandon. Six nights a week anyway. On the seventh night, I rested. Not to be God-like but rather to avoid the only Sunday club night in town: a ropey bungalow with a sound system permanently impaired by an unhappy punter flinging his pint in protest at Take That on repeat. I had some standards.
Parents were oblivious, of course, the pretence firmly in place that years of steering me towards youth-focused Bibley things and away from bad influences had paid off. That I had bought into the notion getting drunk was just showing off and sex was amazing-once-married-and-let’s-never-speak-of-it-again. That I would be hypnotised by these neon DON’Ts once in the big wide world, blind to the debauchery around me. Except uni wasn’t a big, wide world. Quite the opposite: an unexpectedly tiny village where no temptation was out of reach. People experimented because it was fun, not because they wanted to rebel. I had clearly been tricked; this was a fine way to live.
Good intentions faded. Arriving without a survival plan, curiosity drew the map. Often bored by my safe, responsible upbringing these new people and situations were very… interesting. So, while I would like to provide a moving story of the amazing spiritual journey I experienced during my student years - arriving pure and bright eyed from a Good Christian Home, running like Usain-Bolt-style lightning towards the CU and remaining cocooned within its hallowed, protective walls for three years leaving only to study hard / bestow tracts upon the heathens on their way to pound-a-pint night - I can not. For I was that heathen.
I wonder now what I missed. Despite making close friends before and after my uni years, I have none from that time. The people who encouraged me into mischief haven’t stuck around. I see students in churches building real relationships (including one who told me she’d instantly gained two hundred friends and still had them five years later) and wonder how different my life would be if I’d been more discerning back then. Curious about other things, yes, but able to transition well. Whether I’d have friends now who knew me as I was becoming an adult, who could have helped my spiritual and intellectual life as much as my social one and built memories around more than just mischief. Whether I’d regret less or still wonder if I’d missed anything.
The need to ask questions and even make mistakes isn’t going to go away short of a lobotomy / miracle (aim for the latter, if you must) and there are challenges of managing that well. Of finding safe people and places while going through uni, creating good boundaries and emerging wiser, with good experiences. Relationships are vital. A recently graduated friend, who steered clear of both depravity and the CU (I’m assuming they’re usually mutually exclusive), told me he looked back on that time with near hate. Why? Lack of meaningful friendships. Feeling disconnected until, on the last day, real conversations happened which could have changed everything if they’d happened three years earlier. So reach out; challenge yourself to something more than superficial chat. Look for opportunities to go deeper in friendships. Because whatever temptations, difficult situations and hard questions arise, uni will give you a rare opportunity to explore life with others going through the same and that’s considerably trickier with a permanent hangover.