This year I feel really old.
For the first time, I watched teens whom I had known since their awkward middle school years graduate high school. It was bizarre. I had thought that, much like in "Glee," "The Babysitter's Club" and "Sweet Valley High," the first batch of kids I encountered would stay in high school forever. After a flurry of fall retreats, Christmas service projects and summer camps, they are suddenly 18 years old and off to college.
I am struggling to understand where the time went.
I'm also worried because, while these teens think they're adults now who know everything (even though they're really nice about it), I know that the challenges they faced in high school will seem like a cakewalk compared with what they'll encounter as college students -- especially for those living away from home for the first time.
I could give all sorts of shocking statistics, but let me just sum it up by sharing a T-shirt distributed by a Student Life office at a college in Ohio (NOT my alma mater, just to clarify). "Sex Week" was emblazoned across the front. The back read, "It's all fun and games until someone gets..." Well, let's just say the last word rhymed with "slurpees." Use your imagination (or urbandictionary.com).
And this was distributed by the college administration.
Students are capable of giving selflessly, setting goals and standing up to peer pressure. The years following high school should be a time to grow as an individual in independence, knowledge and awareness of the world.
This is fun, but it also seems to have turned into a carte blanche to do anything and everything. This can come at a high cost, as evidenced by the message of the T-shirt I mentioned. The consequences of losing one's way in his or her early 20s can be negatively life-altering. I was a little perturbed that the gravity of this had been minimized to the punch-line of a T-shirt.
In the gospel of Matthew, Christ's final command is to "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19), not "go, therefore, let everyone go crazy in their early 20s and then invite them to church when they've calmed down a bit and have children of their own."
Martha Griswold, a Lowcountry native and recent college graduate (and my little sister), is responding to this invitation in a dramatic way. She has committed to work with FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, for the next two years as a missionary to college campuses. She'll be on a team leading Bible studies, hosting prayer meetings and reaching out to individual students. Knowing that there are missionaries like her makes me slightly less worried for the new batch of college freshman getting launched into the "real world" this fall.
It's easy to think of "all nations" as being tribes in jungles that are inaccessible to us. However, Martha and others like her have recognized that the Gospel needs to be shared with people we had previously not considered it.
The years after high school are formative. If we believe that faith is important, we can't dismiss this time in the lives of young adults.
To learn more about missionary outreach to college students (and to connect students you know) visit www.focusonline.org.
Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her on Twitter @alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.