By: Nick “Tapobu” Rohlf
*Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a six-part series. The next article will be posted on November 13th.*
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36
We’ve all heard it preached in church. We’re warned not to allow earthly desires to destroy us, or we may lose sight of God. It’s easy to read this and say, “I shouldn’t want secular things. I shouldn’t want things that God opposes.” If I were to ask the average reader if they would give up their faith to obtain great wealth and power, most would probably say no. But what if I were to ask this of the reader: If everything you held dear were ripped away from you because of your own weakness and failings, would you do everything in your power to reclaim it? Would you try and get it back even at the cost of your own soul? If you were a senior in college and suddenly found yourself on the verge of losing all you had worked for in the past three years because of your own mistakes, how would you respond? How would you respond if you believed everything God wanted you to have was suddenly out of your reach? To reclaim it would be to turn the back on the One you claim to worship. What would you choose, young college student? Your world or your soul?
I chose the world. And in the end, even she turned her face from me.
As the Pieces Fell Apart
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Romans 7: 21-24
It began in…I don’t even know when. Its roots gathered even as I began to grow as a child. I simply did not know how to behave properly in social situations. As I began to grow in the Christian culture that surrounded me, I began to learn that I should want what God wants. As many who were my age did, I came to believe that if I truly wanted something, that must be what God wants too. It had its lasting impacts on my life in high school, but that is another story for another time. Suffice it to say when I reached college, I thought the past to be behind me and a whole new world ahead. Cue Aladdin music.
Who was I coming into college? I don’t really know. Nobody really knew. I had no lasting friendships from high school, and I honestly knew very little about social interaction. Through my fumblings and failures of freshman year, I quickly gained a sense of what proper social conduct entailed. I made a few friends who, for some odd reason, insisted that I join with them in social activities as often as possible. As freshman year led into sophomore year, I felt as though I was finally becoming a functional human being, complete with friends and social networks and even a personality. Life was good, for the moment. But all the while those lessons I had learned at youth groups and Christian retreats in high school continued to sink in, conflated with the teachings and ramblings of various professors, pastors, students, and chapel speakers. I began to feel as though I must know where God is taking me. I must learn to be a leader. I must learn to be a follower. I must learn to trust and be trusted and want all which is holy and yet all the while want for nothing. I must know what is true and I must doubt everything and everyone that disagrees with me. For after all, I must seek after God’s will for my life. And if God is good, He wants what I want. Right?
The troubles began my Junior year. Until this point, I had been jumping from friend to friend, gaining many acquaintances but fully trusting no one. After all, I had never really had friends prior to college and didn’t exactly know what trusting entailed. As Junior year arrived, however, society ingrained into my system that I must find someone to date, someone to marry. The local college motto was “ring by spring,” and sure enough, several of my acquaintances and friends were beginning to cozy up to their significant others as time began to pass ever more quickly. A sense of impending doom began building up within me – a fear that I would not find someone who wanted to date me, an even greater fear that I would find someone but not be good enough for them. All this spun within the nether regions of my brain as life and school rushed onward at breakneck speed. And, well…before I knew it, I was dating this girl. We’d been friends for quite some time, but this was new territory for both of us. I didn’t know how to proceed, and neither did she. Within a week, our great and wonderful relationship had ended.
I took it hard. How could I not? This was one of the few people I’d trusted. As I began to fall into depression, she began to grow more and more uneasy about hanging out with me. She didn’t want to become a crutch for me, and she didn’t want me to become a burden to her. All the same, however, she did continue being my friend, and I took this to mean I had a chance. I didn’t.
It all came to a head in the spring of ’09. We went out on a walk. I was determined to make clear my intentions, but she beat me to the punch. She didn’t want to date me. Not now, not ever. Stricken by the shock of it all, I said the only thing I could think to say – the only thing my now very myopic faith could allow me to express: “God wants us to be together.”
Those words ended so many friendships. It wasn’t all at once. It never is. At first she told me we could still be friends, but we couldn’t go on our walks anymore, couldn’t go to church together anymore, couldn’t do anything without another person present. That was fair, unless you happened to be me. I happened to be me. I pressed the issue. When nothing happened, I pressed it again. And again. As the pieces fell apart, I struggled more and more desperately. By the time junior year ended, so too had my two closest friendships.