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This past Easter weekend was more meaningful to me than it has ever been before. I felt the heaviness of what Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection did for me as a Christian. When I was younger, it was easy to associate Easter with bunnies, colorful eggs, scavenger hunts, and holiday-themed chocolate because of mainstream culture. Even as I became more aware of my faith growing up, the catchy phrase “He is risen” and the images, songs, and even the joy that came with it was as shallow as practicing religion can be. But, it wasn’t until I truly encountered God halfway through college and began to develop a personal relationship with Him that the message of Easter — unsolicited grace extended to me, a sinner — started to sink in deeper.
Transitioning from religion to relationship, however, is far from an instantaneous process. If you asked me what I did for Easter last year, I would not be able to tell you — though I probably attended church. What I do remember from last spring was barely keeping my head above water as I managed Chemistry 27: “Organic Chemistry of Life”, Physical Science 3: “Electromagnetism, Circuits, Waves, Optics, and Imaging”, and Applied Math 21b: “Mathematical Methods in the Sciences” at the same time. But now, little by little, all that seemed important has lost its significance in comparison. The story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the bedrock of my faith. It is the absolute truth which Christians should build their lives on. With that mindset, as I looked around on Easter Sunday, I was excited to see an energy around campus uncharacteristic of most early mornings and afternoons right before the school week begins again. It was refreshing. But, as a Harvard student or even just young person myself in this day and age, I was able to look deeper and see past the superficial mask many of us put on for such an occasion.
How many of us are still experiencing our faith as that shallow feeling of piety?
For some of us, being Christian is just one aspect of our identity that can easily be minimized and maximized to suit our surroundings. In a college environment, it is easy to blend in with the crowd for the sake of social capital, experiencing new things, and enjoying our youth. At Harvard especially, we are encouraged to live a life here on earth that leaves a lasting legacy, but this does not account for our eternity. Our excitement about Easter is only as impactful as what our lives tell people. Do we live like we believe in His death? How can we point to the loving sacrifice of our Lord and Savior as something to live by when nothing distinguishes our lives from others?
I, too, am far from perfect in this, but I like to believe I am progressing by God’s grace. Three years ago, I wrote my first Crimson op-ed on reconciling Christianity with college life. Looking back on it, I can’t help but smile in amusement at that stage of my life. Still wide-mouthed and starry-eyed at being at a place like Harvard, carrying my strong, Christian upbringing on my shoulders, I was trying to figure out how this Christian “thing” would work in college. While my resolve then was to stand firm behind my beliefs, the word “reconciling” gave me away. To reconcile means to cause to coexist in harmony or to make compatible, but the Christian faith was never supposed to coexist harmoniously or be compatible with college life. It is supposed to pierce through confusion and challenge what is accepted as the mainstream college experience. It is supposed to be all-consuming and dominant over everything else in a person’s life. This may sound scary, but it is in fact liberating.
Knowing the basis of my identity is in Christ allows me to escape some of the struggles of college life born out of searching for validation and contentment. What I am unable to escape, due to my imperfect nature, an eternally-focused mindset quickly puts those struggles into perspective. More importantly, all the things, like a perfect GPA and numerous extracurricular commitments, that vy for attention and seem to hold such great significance realign themselves under God’s purpose for my life.
Harvard does not have to be the place where faith is placed on hold while we develop the rest of ourselves as individuals, and it surely does not have to strip us of our faith completely. This place will challenge and test our Christianity just as it does everything else we believe to be true. Even as we work through what we encounter, compartmentalizing Christianity to baseless religious practice, if that, only does a disservice to ourselves and the world around us, not to mention the author and finisher of our faith. Living like we believe in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection, that broke the bondage of sin and religious legalism, means living a life that is set apart. It means taking everything that is thrown at us and, regardless of the environment we find ourselves in, refusing to reconcile our Christian faith with it but rather allowing our faith to be the foundation of our lives from which we function daily.
Ifeoluwa T. Obayan ’19, a former Crimson Editorial Comp Director, is a Biomedical Engineering and Social Anthropology joint concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.
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