We’re continuing our series on letters to freshmen who attending legalistic college campuses, which began with this letter and spurred important conversations on Facebook.  A frequent comment on Facebook said that Pensacola Christian College had changed, therefore concerns about the college are outdated. Speaking to her freshman self as a recent graduate of PCC in Biblical studies, Hannah’s words apply to the current PCC students and the climate on campus.

credit: theguardian.com

credit: theguardian.com

Dear Freshman Hannah,

I’ve been thinking over what I should tell you about the next several years. I had an outline drawn up and everything. I came up with a list of twenty ideas and points to discuss with you, but it all came to the same thing.

Don’t go.
It isn’t worth it.

The money, the time, the useless degree, the classes that taught you the school’s beliefs and stifled independence and critical thinking are not worth the hidden price tag of spiritual turmoil you will endure. You won’t even realize anything is wrong until near the end. You won’t leave because you’ll keep trying to convince yourself it isn’t that bad.
Don’t start.
Don’t go.

Don’t go to the place that can’t answer questions honestly and manipulates Scripture for its own ends. To the place that badgers you into conformity with false-guilt, shame and lies that tell you you’re worthless. To the place that tells you that you don’t really know God unless you look, speak, act and think like they do.

The truth, lies and error will become so tangled you won’t be able to tell true from false.

Don’t go.

You’ll be told truth, half-truth, deceptions, falsehoods, and lies. But it will all sound reasonable and true. The truth, lies and error will become so tangled you won’t be able to tell true from false. Your faith will become so knotted, the good and the bad inextricable you’ll wonder if it’s even worth keeping.

Don’t go.

You’ll be convinced that your non-conformity is sin against God himself, that questions are a lack of faith and doubt means you haven’t trusted God-even though it’s not God, but their system, you’re doubting.

Don’t go.

The manipulation, doubt, fear, shame, guilt, and wrath used to control you and conform you to their image, will soon become inseparable from the God they claim to serve. He will seem wrathful and hateful and soon you will doubt if there is even the possibility of a loving God.

You will come to the point where you say to yourself “If this is God, I’d rather choose hell.”

Don’t go.

The Bible will seem empty. You’ll look for the beauty you once saw and you won’t find it.

You’ll spend a year after graduation having anxiety attacks whenever you open the Bible and when those finally fade, that love that you have for the beauty of the Bible, the story of God, man and redemption-it will be in tatters. The book will seem empty. You’ll look for the beauty you once saw and you won’t find it.

Your world and conception of reality will come to ruin. You’ll fight with despair and depression. It will be dark.

Hannah, you will get to the point where it is so confusing and so painful that you even consider ending your life.

That is where you end up.
Don’t go.

credit: theguardian.com

credit: theguardian.com

But I know you.
You’re me.
You’ll go because “it can’t be that bad right?”

So know this then.
Through all the darkness, the anguish and tears. You’ll begin to discover yourself.

Who you are apart from the religious system that currently dominates your life.

You’ll begin to explore your faith and tentatively reach for Jesus.
You’ll look around at what you once saw as beauty-your religion, your system, your faith-you’ll see the rubble and slowly, painfully start to realize you don’t have to stay in the wreckage.

You’ll realize that what you miss most is how put together your life was. How easy it was to play your role and fill all the familiar lines. You knew God’s role in everything, no surprise or obstacle was too big, and your decisions were easy. Life was black and white.

You’ll learn, even while at school that there are shades of gray. As more time passes and you start leaving the ruin of your old self and the life you thought you wanted, you’ll see that life is full of color.

Friends will help you heal and recover and search for truth.

It will be scary.
It will be overwhelming.
And that’s ok.
You’ll have found several friends who’ve decided to live life the hard way with you. They’ll help you heal and recover and search for truth.

Take what time you need in the ruins of your old self. You can try to rebuild for a while, or scavenge for usable materials. But you’ll move on eventually.

When you do step out to live your life, to find God, to see if he’s there and who he claims to be, it will be again, painfully hard.
People won’t always understand and you’ll make wrong turns and bad decisions. Sometimes it’ll be too much and you’ll face despair just like you did in the ruins.

But it is now your life.

It is a hard life.
But hard is not bad.
Hard is just hard.

You can do this.
You will.

Ask for help from people you trust.
Take your time.

And go.
Because going to that miserable school is what sends you on your way to know God.

Best of luck,

Dear Reader:

I attended Pensacola Christian College from 2009-2013 and graduated from their Bible program with my Bachelors.
I was never in trouble, followed all the rules except lights out (until senior year…I gave up and watched a movie) and was involved in some of the service opportunities provided.
I went, excited to learn and hoping for the best.
I am learning about God now, which is more than I could’ve hoped for a few months ago.
It’s still a very shaky relationship, but it’s developing.
I’m glad to be who I am now.
But I believe that is God working in spite PCC, not so much through them.
I cannot in good conscience recommend Pensacola Christian College to anyone.

If you choose to attend, I do hope you have a better experience than me, and that you do well. College is a great time to learn who you are apart from everyone else. Enjoy the uncomfortable, awkward transition into adulthood-it’s a good thing.

Best of luck,