I’ve been reflecting recently on society’s broken view of love. We all long to be loved. But we doubt our ability to be. We set up qualifications in our mind: what it will take for us to be desirable, to be valuable. What it will cost for us to be loved. We fight to be attractive enough, intelligent enough, athletic enough, humorous enough… But we can never quite live up to our own qualifications. We try to earn love, buy it, ignore it, or fill our need for it with a temporary high. But because we live disconnected from the love that we were formed for, the love of God that fills and sustains us, we live with a deep sense of emptiness.
I see this emptiness everywhere on the college campus. Students that are trying to find their place in the university world are really trying to figure out if they can be loved, to fill the void they experience on a daily basis. This is the struggle of every college freshman who hits the clubs during their first weekend on campus, starts an unhealthy relationship before their first class, or becomes consumed by homework and a drive to achieve after they get their first syllabus. It is a search to belong.
In his book, Fast Forward to Mission, Alan Hirsch writes that “a community that embodies the life and teachings of Jesus is the kind of community that is itself deeply attractive to a lonely and lost world.” InterVarsity’s New Student Outreach gives those of us who have encountered the truth of Jesus’ love an incredible opportunity to offer this definition of fullness to an empty and broken campus. Last week at the University of Tampa we got contact information from nearly 300 students who know that they need more to satisfy them. We have spent hours since then inviting them into real community. We’ve eaten dinner together, played volleyball, hosted a game night featuring Giant Jenga, introduced ourselves through a Bible study and a panel, celebrated a birthday, eaten breakfast for dinner, played the world’s largest kickball game and eaten dozens of cookies. Each of these moments were an opportunity for us to incarnate the love of Jesus that we have ourselves experienced. They were a chance for us to look students in the eyes and welcome them as Jesus welcomed the outcasts, the poor, the sick, the sinners, and the tax collectors. Through these events we were able to show students at the University of Tampa that Jesus wants to meet them where they are, that real love and genuine friendship do exist, and that God Himself is offering these things to them.
As we continue in this semester my prayer is that the urgency and desperation that we felt to reach students during New Student Outreach never fades. My prayer is that we would move and operate out of a deep knowledge of the love of Jesus and offer this truth to everyone we encounter on campus. My prayer is the same as Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3: 17- 19).
And that through this the students at the University of Tampa that don’t know Jesus yet would come to grasp hold of His love, and all their empty places would be filled with all His fullness.
We could be anybody.