Skip to main content


The Freshmen Foibles

First year blogger Aidan O'Neill explores what it's like to move from one faith community before college to a different one in college.

Over the last few years of my life, I've had the chance to hear a lot of testimonies. They were all incredible stories from incredible people, adults, peers, and friends. But I could never really relate to them, because the stories usually began with the same phrase: "Well, I grew up in a Christian home, and…" The speakers would go on to describe how they were raised with church, the Bible, and learned about God from a young age, and how eventually they had an experience or realization that allowed them to make their faith their own. For myself, what was missing from these accounts were the stories of those who came in from the outside - the story of people who had a different background, like me, the story of the born-again, the convert. 

Obviously, I did not grow up in a Christian home, though my childhood was near perfect. I had a happy life; I did not feel like I needed saving. But I was curious. Something was missing.

After my freshman year of high school, my friends convinced me to go to Malibu, a YoungLife camp in Canada. What started as an experiment quickly turned into the best week of my life. Suddenly, I saw everything from an entirely different perspective: faith was not simply an academic choice to believe or not believe in a higher power. It was not determined by mindset, upbringing, or demographic. It was at the primal. It meant having a relationship with God.

Once back home, I took advantage of the enormous and vibrant Christian community of Gig Harbor. Church, youth groups, and retreats allowed for constant growth and renewal in my faith. Most of my friends were believers and we held each other accountable. This strong network of fellowship affirmed and gratified me at every step along the way.

One of the reasons I decided on Santa Clara was the hope I would find a similar community there. A Jesuit institution that had expanded from a mission into a school, the university gave me every reason to expect that it would nurture my developing faith.

What I had forgotten, of course, was that it was also a college. Living away from home and the independence that comes with it is a reputable test of maturity and self-reliance. For college freshman like myself, there is no one to scold us if we let our laundry pile up for three weeks, and no one to tell us good job if we stay in on a Saturday to study. This situation often creates a sharp divide between those who can handle the freedom and those who cannot. We either thrive or struggle once those reins are loosened. 

This phenomenon holds true not just for our academic habits, but for our faith as well. In the same way that freshman leave behind parents, teachers, and tutors that once held us accountable, we also leave behind mentors, friends, and favorite pastors that kept us coming back, kept our minds focused on our priorities. 

There is a community for me here too, ready to replace the one I left behind. After all, I am writing this blog. But right now, I am missing those days of youth groups, going to church with family, that favorite prayer spot. We are in that "sink or swim" scenario with our faith the same way we are with our laundry.

But I have been in this scenario before. Growing up without religion, having that period of doubt and disbelief early on in my life has strengthened my faith. I was not born with a community of believers, I found one. I consider myself extremely lucky. 

For now, I am without some of the comforts of home. But that's okay. Like so many others, I have learned strength and trust from times of self-reliance. It is only a matter of time before we find a new home here. I have faith in that.

freshman year,identity,within,blog,worship,prayer,struggle