I went to a fairly popular Christian university called Cedarville. Most young Christians in the Mid West have heard of Cedarville, which is in southwest Ohio in the middle of a bunch of cornfields. When I meet someone who has heard of Cedarville we inevitably play this game:
Person: “Do you know this person? They studied whatever.”
Person: “Oh! How about this person?”
Person: “Do you know…”
Me: “I didn’t really have any friends.”
Then I usually defend myself a by saying that I was an Early Childhood Education major, so I really only know other Early Ed majors and that I worked in Springfield, so I was off campus a lot. And both of those things are true. But what is also true is that I didn’t have a lot of friends because I wasn’t a very good friend.
In college, and probably long before, my idol was “cool.” I wanted people to know how cool I was with my tattoos and piercings and off campus job. I wanted people to hear me bumping music in my car and think, “That girl is cool.” I wanted people to know I had my lip pierced, even though I couldn’t wear it on campus, and that I also had several ear piercings and I wanted people to know these things because I wanted them to think I was cool.
The problem with all my efforts was that trying to be cool is not actually cool. It’s lonely. I wouldn’t say hi to people I knew when we passed on the sidewalk because I thought if I didn’t they’d think I was too busy and cool to say hi and then they’d want to be my friend even more (assuming they wanted to in the first place). I didn’t try too hard to talk to people in my classes, because I didn’t want people to think I was weird or desperate for attention. I didn’t want to annoy people. I wanted them to think I already had so many friends I didn’t need more. I wanted to be cool.
But over the course of the five years I spent at Cedarville, God taught me a lot of really awesome things. Through daily chapels and classes led by awesome professors and conversations with the couple of friends I managed to snag early on, I learned a lot about who God is and what He’s doing in the world. And eventually I even started to learn that maybe my method of faking-cool wasn’t really working. At the start of my very last semester, I decided to try something new. I had a few gen eds left and I knew that most of the students in my classes would be underclassmen, so they would think I was cool already since I was a (fifth year) senior. I decided to make new friends.
I intentionally sat next to people I wanted to talk to and then I talked to them. I asked them questions and listened to their answers. We joked and laughed and they got to learn that I actually am kind of cool through actual interaction with me and I got to know some really cool freshmen. I said hi first to people on the sidewalk and I made all my new friends little Valentines Day goodie bags and sent them to them through campus mail. I invited people to lunch after class (or rather, invited myself to be scanned into the cafeteria by them since I was living off campus) and I offered up my house when my refugee family had to watch a movie together for Contemporary World Missions class. In short, I made friends.
I realized that for years I had been letting my pride and my own self-perception rob me of the opportunity to get to know really awesome people. I was so focused on what everyone else was thinking about me that I never thought about anyone else. And guess what? That last semester was my favorite semester at Cedarville because I let myself be vulnerable, because I realized I really had nothing to lose in putting myself out there. If I sat next to someone and starting talking to them and they never sat next to me again, I could take a hint and my pride could take a hit and I would survive. If I said hi to someone on the sidewalk and they straight up ignored me, I could take a hint and my pride could take a hit and I would survive. But here’s the thing. That never happened. Because people are nice. And because most people like being noticed and greeted on the sidewalk.
I’m sitting right now at Beans and Cream in Cedarville, Ohio. I drove through campus today past the dorms where I used to live and I thought about how much I’ve grown since my days as a Cedarville student. Now, instead of spending all my energy on trying to be cool, I make an effort to spend at least part of my energy on making others feel good. Now, I am learning to put others needs and interests before my own. Now, I am learning what it actually means to be cool and in the process what it means to be a friend.