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October 24, 2013

MAY: We are all tempted to drop it

— Once I start something, I like to finish it. If I have a project, I churn inside until I complete it.

If I make a commitment to a program, I am going to follow through with it. When I signed up for a class at college, I did not drop the class.

Except Hebrew. Three times. There was always a reason — a good reason. The class was difficult. Hebrew is a challenging language to learn.

One year, I simply could not dedicate the amount of time necessary to be successful in the language. Another year there were several difficult emotional stresses in life, including the death of my father, which prevented my concentration and commitment from being what it should be. The other year I simply did not like the teacher.

Every year, I continued to enroll in Hebrew. I knew there would be times when the content would come in handy, but I really did not expect to use the information on a daily basis.

The largest motivating factor in taking the class was a particular degree that I wanted that required Hebrew as the second foreign language. There was no immediate reward; simply different words on a different sheepskin in the future.

The class might have been different if some of my friends had been taking the class with me, but none of them were so foolish as to enroll. It might have been different if I had seen an immediate need and use for the information. It might have been different if I felt that Hebrew would make me a better person for knowing it.

If I had seen a way that I would use the language the next day, it might have made studying easier. Lots of “ifs” that led to lots of “drops.”

We are enrolled in Faith 101. The class is not an easy one. Other classes places demands on our time. The person sitting next to us is making noise and distracting us. The class’ teacher and the circumstances of life are not always understandable. This is more difficult than I thought it would be.

Maybe I should just drop the class. How can I ever hope to pass Faith 101?

Faith needs relationships, not activities. A recent study by George Barna showed that high school students are more engaged in religious activities than any other group of people surveyed. The same students become the least engaged group when they go to college.

One of the reasons becomes clear. Activities without relationships becomes meaningless. In college, relationships are just forming. It is easier to share a beer with a stranger than a prayer.

Faith needs character, not commands. If faith is merely a set of rules to be followed, it becomes an issue of performance. But if faith is something that changes who I am — allows me to be more patient in the traffic jam, more forgiving to my spouse, more loving to my children — then it is easier for me to be motivated. If faith makes me a better person, I am more likely to continue exercising it.

Faith needs a context, not confinement. For many, faith is something practiced at a gathering, but not in real life. In his book, “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Their Faith,” David Kinnaman’s studies found that millions of people in their 20s wanted to know how to integrate faith into their chosen vocations, but most receive very little guidance or even contact from their faith communities.

I fight the temptation to drop Faith 101 because I know I need this class. The class gives me information that I cannot find anywhere else. It answers questions that only the toughest of teachers dare ask. And it gives me something different when graduation day finally arrives.

It gives me hope.

— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.

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