I met with a college student earlier this week who shared her struggle about an important decision she has to make on Friday night: should she drink with friends before going to the music concert, should she hang out and have one drink, should she spend time with everyone beforehand but not drink at all, or should she just plan to meet them at the show, sober? Swirling these scenarios in her head, Sara* says she’s just not sure what to what to do.
In the last year, Sara has made significant changes in her lifestyle choices. Moving from the binge drinking scene to deepening her spiritual life with Christ and others, she is not the same Sara she was twelve months ago. Earlier this month, she had a compelling experience at a three day leadership conference that challenged her to further consider her beliefs (especially regarding her relationship to alcohol) and her behavior.
Living in the backyard of the #1 party school in the nation, we are constantly confronted with questions of how to best bring God’s love and truth into the binge drinking scene at Penn State. This past Friday, Sara joined a group of Christian friends who decided to go downtown to pass out free food to drunk students and help any who needed a safe ride home. Dishing out doughnuts to a line of students about to enter a nightclub, Sara noticed a pack of students in the back that looked too familiar. They were the friends she used to drink with.
That moment left her with an unnerving question: can I be on both sides of the line? Can I be the girl giving out doughnuts and the girl in line for the nightclub? Beneath this question lies a deep heart cry – how do I live the congruent life? – a question many of us are trying to answer.
With the exception of getting plastered before the concert, I don’t know that there is a one clear answer for Sara this Friday; however, I do believe she is called to live congruently. She is called to be the same Sara on Friday night as she is on Sunday morning at church and at Wednesday night Bible study and at Monday morning math class. This is no easy task.
As struggles like Sara’s arise, I find myself urging students with the words of someone whose life and work have made a profound impact on the way I approach campus ministry as well as on my understanding of my own beliefs and actions. That man is Steven Garber. For Steve, weaving together belief and behavior is at the heart of faithful Christian living. Sometimes our beliefs or behaviors need to change in order to more accurately reflect the One we claim to follow, and we will need the help of a community of like-minded friends if we hope to faithfully pursue the alignment of our actions with our deepest convictions.
In the same way that congruent geometric shapes coincide at all points, I believe that we, in ourselves, must inwardly and outwardly align. Like congruent triangles, we may change position (because even as individuals we play multiple roles/wear multiple hats), but at the end of the day (and at the beginning) we too have invariants: properties, values that do not, should not change. Living in this accordance is the life and faithfulness that Steve advocates.
While praying for Sara this morning I turned to Psalm 88 (as part of a reading plan I’m trying to follow right now), but when I opened to the psalm, I quickly noticed a dark check mark I made at the top of the left page. It was right beside the words “give me an undivided heart.” Wow, God. The phrase is part of this verse: “Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I might fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11).
I prayed for an undivided heart for Sara. I prayed the same for myself.