October 15

How To Be Happy In College

By Marsh Chapel


Mark 10:17

Aging it may be, brings the preacher to the point of having the temerity to offer any advice of any kind on anything. To know Christ is to know His benefits, said the reformers. Counting those benefits may be one of the joys of aging.

Parents will tell you that aging can be bittersweet.

Like the day after engagement when you are told about registering for china and appliances for wedding gifts. You feel older. But I just wanted to get married! What is all this merchandizing?

Or when you turn thirty, from twenty nine. A day that will live in infamy, a day of darkness and not of light. Who may abide the day and its coming? It is like a refiner’s fire. Illness descends.

Like the decision to buy a van, and to sell a convertible. The shift from sports car to van or station wagon—need I say more? Is there a surer measure of aging?

Time flies—ah no. Time stays—we go.

Like when you watch a 3 hour movie and realize that the stars look to you like they are teenagers. I prepare you for the pain.

Or when you find yourself asking people to repeat what they have said because you did not quite hear them. “Could you repeat that?” “Would you care to repeat what you said?” “Excuse me, but, huh?”

Or, on more serious note, you begin to feel the onset of age as you see that the great reforms you had hoped might occur in your own lifetime lie still buried under heaps of sloth and falsehood and pride.

Blame some aging for the urge to advise.

You can be happy in college, if you will remember seven words. (They may just apply to life, eternal life, real life in life, as well…)

  1. Study.

An often underrated part of the student life is found in this verb. One reasonable way to find happiness in college is to study. Force yourself. Train yourself. Flog yourself. And when all else fails, talk with a mentor. Find a way to use your time wisely. As George Fox told the Quakers, quoting Hebrews, “Prize your time now you have it, for God is a consuming fire”. If possible, work some study time into your schedule every day. The benefits will accrue immediately. Your parents will be pleased. Your grades will be better. You will be happier with yourself. And, you may graduate!

Les nearly failed his way out of Oswego State 30 years ago. He had a wonderful time and mad probation mid-way through the fall semester. Then he met Diane, bowling. They had such fun. It made all his other revelries pale. Friendship and humour and love and joy—and she was a good bowler too. After a long and late Friday night, Les asked to see her again on Saturday. “Sure”, she replied, “we can study together. One night a week of parties is plenty.” Les walked home on cloud nine, waiting for tomorrow, certain she was kidding. But 8pm Saturday night came and Les walked along Lake Ontario toward the dorm. He was dressed for the evening, but Diane met him at the door in jeans with a stack of books. So Les went to the library for the first time that semester. He squeaked by the fall and spring, picked up speed and graduated with his class. Diane and he were married just before he went off to Princeton seminary. Les will tell you, “I had not realized how big a part of college studying can be, if you let it.”

Let the main thing be the main thing.

  1. Walk.

There is a time to speak, says Ecclesiastes, and a time to be silent. Silence

Is rare in dorms. Students, like Jesus sitting in the temple, are beginning to think on their own, but they need time to do so. One dorm advisor who worked in a 600 student dorm (Delplain Hall) made just one suggestion at orientation: take a walk every day. Thinking is the process of integrating information and insight, experience and judgment. To think you need time and freedom to step back from the 599 others and their stereos. Otherwise the mental muscle will not develop, and you will go too easily with the flow.

Late one night a sophomore knocked at her resident advisor’s door. She was the most socially active girl on her hall—soccer, sorority, floor meetings, ski club, marching band and, even, classes. The advisor was at first surprised to hear her whisper: “I’m so lonely here.” Fleeing her own becoming person, she had grown weary. At last she stopped and faced her fear. Said her advisor, “You are lonely because, now, you are alone. Stop running from yourself. Every afternoon walk up the hill to the Ag Quad and back. Twenty minutes of pure solitude and you won’t feel so lonely.” She quoted Pascal about sitting alone, too.

In walking—we have not spoken of prayer yet—you can hear your soul grow and change, remember and foresee. You can overhear what others are too busy or noisy to hear, even the deeper truth of their own lives.

  1. No!

Here is another underrated word.

But like a river needs banks, a life needs limits. Otherwise the current of

Being spills out all over the plain and there is no direction, no force, no power to the river. You just drift and glide. A good life needs boundaries, river banks. When parents sandbag, the responsibility lies elsewhere. Amos says we are too hate
evil as well as love good. You will define yourself as much by what you oppose as by what you affirm.

Every “no” is an upside down “yes”.

If you say no to steady drunkenness it is for the joy of bodily health.

If you say no to racial hatred you point out the path of future peace.

If you say no to $120 sneakers it is an affirmation of things invisible.

If you say no to nuclear arsenals it is too affirm the sacredness of life.

If you say no to flagrant abuse of the gifts of sexuality, you are trying to affirm covenant and integrity and future happiness.

If you say no to a life focused only on obtaining, you make room for enjoyment and love.

Every no hides a yes, and you can be negatively positive.

We all find some happiness by finding our “no’s” and sticking to them.

  1. Fun.

Have some fun along the way.

One depressed junior spoke to his teacher who simply asked him what he

liked to do for fun. The list was made. Do you do any of these things regularly? No, I am too busy. The teacher sentenced the junior to a daily game of bridge, two basketball games a week, several monthly movies, and pop tarts every morning for breakfast. He sentenced the student too use his own list. All work and no play makes Bob a dull boy.

  1. Explore.

In college and in retirement you have various kinds of freedom to explore.

Try not to explore in ways you will regret, for regret is the forecourt of hell. But explore nonetheless!

Three sorts of exploration make good sense in college.

One is travel, far and wide, national and international.

Another is into the past, mainly by reading.

A third is across cultures.

Geography, history and culture are more open to you now than they may ever be again.

Explore, with the single aim of finding what is good, of integrating this good into your vision of the truth. “Liberal education flourishes when it prepares the way for a discussion of a unified view of nature and man’s place in it.” (A. Bloom).

  1. Friend.

Last, not least, open yourself to real friendship.

The friendships formed in these years will last a lifetime if they are well

Planted and watered. The freedoms and struggles of that first real experience of independence can also provide the nutrients for the growth of real friendships. In friendship, as in love, there is terror and mystery.

Several stages are visible in the growth of a friendship.

Deciding when and how and who leads and follows.

Learning to give up something for another.

Making a really big life mistake.

Talking about making a really big life mistake.




Chapters in a book.

Friendships developed now can last a lifetime. One graduate of Smith College in the year 1914 corresponded through the 1980’s monthly with her college roommate. Illness and age prevented visits, but the letters still came and went.

Friendships developed now can transform.

The newspaper recently carried the story of Jack Bruen, Colgate basketball coach. Ill but still coaching when the article appeared, Bruen died at 48 last week. We have known his kindness to our children over many summers of basketball camp. Said one former student, “Besides my father, his is the only shoulder I’ve ever cried on”. Read some books in college, but read the human documents too. They will change your life.

For the best of them, through friendship, will recall the spirit of Jesus, whom we affirm, this day, as our transforming friend.

  1. Love

Love. But this word, given our Scripture today, in a very particular sen

Love: learn to love the poor.

Our man in Mark lacks. One thing you lack…He is haunted by what he lacks, though he probably could not have named or narrated his lack for himself. It is the preaching of the gospel—soprano, alto, tenor, bass—which awakens, in him, I mean in you, I mean in him, I mean in us, the profound lack.

He lacks the lightness of being that comes from the lack that he lacks. Poverty. He lacks that ‘spiritual’ (for once we shall carefully use the word) freedom from abundance of possessions which poverty, sharply, may bring. What he lacks is lack itself.

Love…learn to love the poor.

Isn’t it curious…Elliot Spitzer, Princeton, candidate for governor in the Empire State, remembers, vividly, his college summer among the poor—a completely different side of life. Did that summer shape his mind? His HEART? There, then did he learn to live with abandon?

Isn’t it curious…This week Muhammed Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for giving tiny loans to poor people in Bangladesh? His first loan: $27 out of his own pocket in 1976, repaid quickly and in full. “If you can make so many people happy with such a small amount of money, why shouldn’t you do more of it?” Yunus lives with abandon. Cut lose from all that smothers, you can find your own true self. You can become your “ownmost” self. To find your calling, your true vocation, your voice, is more than getting an A and getting a job. Sometimes people live well into their fifties before admitting and accepting their vocation—that which has them live ‘with abandon’.

The textured nuances of this text—sure signs of the middle alto voice of the early church—bear emphasis. Not all are blessed and burdened with great wealth. But all know the struggle with greed. Covenant with the poor will fill your lack. Not all are faced with the particular challenge of camel and needle. But all depend fully on the impossible possibility of grace. Before God we are naked. Before God we are empty handed. None is good but God. Connection with the poor can free you. You will recognize that grace where you are free to live ‘with abandon’.

Isn’t it curious…Some years ago—long before I knew much about Howard Thurman, or that he had stood in this pulpit—his profound little book, ‘Jesus and the Disinherited’, hit my desk. We then used it as a study guide among the clients of our dining center, after breakfast on Tuesdays. You know, I have endured and inflicted hundreds of classes and groups. But that small, untidy, alcohol scented, ravaged, male group haunts still, haunts through lack.

Have we learned to love the poor? Where great University learning and a confident love of the poor, of the least and last and lost have bonded, there has been fire. Think of Luther at Wittenberg, and among the German peasants. Think of Ignatius, in Paris, the poor in the city and the learning of the University, in 1540. Of course, think of Wesley at Oxford and in the mines.

And thee? Where is that Boston scout troop, looking for a 20 year old assistant scout master? Where is that big sister program, just waiting for what your parents gave you for free? Where is that city school, ready for your cyberknowledge? Where is that church school class without a teacher?

Says the man in the third pew, ‘Preacher, you seem to be mentioning things and words that are unhappy (study, no, poor…). Is part of learning to be happy learning to be unhappy?’ You might say so. ‘The reality of the vessel is the shape of the void within it’. (Lao Tse). Empty yourself and you will be satisfied. Empty yourself, and you will be full. As Mark writes later, ‘the last shall be first, and the first shall be last’.

And remember, there are two ways be rich: have lots of money, or very few needs.

To be happy, learn from some unhappiness, and happily so…

Study. Walk. Say No. Have Fun. Explore. Befriend. Love the poor…

Some ways to be happy in college. And in life. And “in God”.

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