It’s been some years since I went off to college, but those intense memories of the first time away from home and newly found independence are burned into my mind. I was in a suite with 5 other guys – young men who came from all walks of life with all kinds of different perspectives. I remember we found each other on Facebook with our new accounts —- back when you couldn’t get on Facebook until you had an official college email. We worked together before we had even met to pitch in for a TV and other goodies for our suite. I could go on and on about my experiences and memories from going off to college for the first time at Binghamton University, but what I really remember was my fear of struggle.
I was confident I could make friends. I was confident I could handle the courses. I was confident I could manage my time. I believed in myself, and I put a lot of stock in that belief.
The problem was, once I got to college, I struggled.
Of course I did, right? I mean how else could it have been? Who has ever gone off to college and just checked all the boxes on the way to their degree?
But, to be totally honest, I wasn’t OK with struggling. I had the Yoda “do or do not, there is no try” mentality, and I had convinced myself that my struggles were a failure. Can’t figure out what to do on your first Friday night at college, even though you thought you had just made great friends in your suite and that you’d all hang out together? Failure. Promised yourself you’d keep up with all of your homework and readings, but you didn’t even keep up through the first week? Failure. Missed callbacks on that acappella group you were so excited to join because you didn’t read the flyer all the way through? Failure.
What do you do when you’re told to be successful, but you’ve already failed?
You drop that entire binary mindset, and you struggle, of course.
In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, we hear about his struggles. Paul writes “…as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger…” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5 RSV) in an effort to convey not his virtues, as we would have seen in Greek texts of the time, but his struggles. It is an incredibly Christian thing to boast in our struggles.
Though, to this college freshman, that feeling of struggle felt so insignificant compared to the others in the world. What do I have to complain about when others have it so much more difficult?
This is where if I could go back and talk to myself, I would offer one piece of advice. The smaller struggles train you for the bigger struggles. Asking for help connecting with new friends and enduring the struggle to navigate those relationships would have helped me ask my TA to assist me in understanding the Chemistry course I was already struggling to keep up with. Asking my TA to help me with Chemistry would have encouraged me to talk to my advisor about balancing my course load by taking Calc II over the summer. Asking my advisor to help me with my course load would have led me to ask my priest why I was struggling to connect with my faith while living on campus with no Orthodox Christian peers.
Learning to struggle teaches us to ask for help. Asking for help teaches us humility. Through struggle, even with the small things, we build the skills necessary to grow. When we accept struggle as a central component of our lives as Orthodox Christians, we will find ourselves in a pattern of growth that will train us for a life full of struggle, and ultimately, toward eternity.
If you learn to embrace struggle and to ask for help while you’re in college, you won’t be surprised when your first job points out your flaws. You won’t be surprised when you’ve found “the one,” but marriage turns out to be a lot more work than Disney had promised. You won’t be surprised when your newborn son loves to sleep when he wants to but loves to party when you’re trying to sleep. So embrace your struggle. Ask for help. Always remember that our job is not to live a perfect life, but a life of constant effort – constant struggle – in repentance toward Christ.
Fr. Niko Tzetzis
Great Lakes Regional Spiritual Advisor
Fr. Niko is the associate priest at Holy Trinity – St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, Ohio and the Regional Spiritual Advisor for the Great Lakes region of OCF. Fr. Niko was ordained to the priesthood recently, in September of 2020, and he and Presvytera Ivey welcomed their son Tommy into the world this past summer.