In his first two years on campus, College Pastor Matthew Marohl was asked the same question a surprising number of times:
Can you recommend a devotion book written for college students?
The query came from all kinds of students. Religion majors. Athletes. The leaders of student organizations.
“They all wanted a devotion book aimed at college students,” Marohl says. “And there are shockingly few.”
So the summer after completing his second year at St. Olaf College, Marohl sat down and wrote one. The book, titled Faith in Motion, included 50 prayers and 20 devotions that focused on everything from roommate problems and exam anxieties to the excitement of going home for a visit.
“I wanted to produce a devotion book that got to the heart of what college life is really like,” Marohl says.
He had 300 copies printed and set them out for students to take. They flew off the shelves.
When Associate College Pastor Katie Fick arrived the next year, they worked on producing a second volume together, titled Living Faith. They each wrote 30 prayers and included 20 new devotions, focusing on issues that they knew would speak directly to college students. This time they printed 500 copies — and by the end of the year, they too were gone.
This fall the St. Olaf pastors released the third volume of the book, titled Faith in College: Devotions and Prayers.
Like the first two editions, it includes prayers and devotions designed to help students connect their faith to the issues they’re actually dealing with.
Take, for example, a prayer titled “When Homework is Difficult”:
I really like what I am learning, God,
but this homework is so hard.
I thought that if I studied something I loved it would be easy,
but it takes much more effort than I realized.
Sometimes I think it means this isn’t what I am meant to do.
Other times I am determined to work hard and
keep pursuing my goals.
When I get frustrated, O God, be with me.
Encourage me to take a break and refocus.
Give me the determination to finish my work,
strengthen me in my vocation as a student and
help me discern which work I truly love to do.
Or a prayer titled “I Wish I Was Dating” that begins with a line many people might not think of including in a prayer:
Loving God, I really want a date.
Marohl says the goal of the book is to model that all of life’s experiences can be included in prayer.
“Why would you only pray for the health of your grandmother when what’s also on your mind is wishing someone would see you as interesting and creative and find you attractive?” Marohl says. “These prayers actually speak to college life.”
Fick notes that the topics included in Faith in College are not ones that she and Marohl simply think will resonate with college students.
“These are topics that we actually hear and answer questions about over and over again when we’re talking with students,” she says. “And to offer prayers on those topics means that we’re connecting faith with what they’re going through.”
The St. Olaf pastors — a lively, fun-loving duo popular with students — note that creating the devotional is a truly collaborative process. They have such similar styles and ideas of what students care about that in this third edition of the devotional, it can be hard for them to remember which pastor wrote which prayer or devotion.
But they can each easily rattle off the core components of faith life that the book touches on — things like grace, forgiveness, love, and serving one another.
“All students who come to campus will be wrestling on some level with questions of ‘What do I believe about the world?’ and ‘What is going to be meaningful in my life?'” Fick says. “And part of the Lutheran tradition is caring about that and helping all students address these questions.”
The devotion book, designed by Lisa Brown in the College Ministry Office with photos she’s taken all across campus, is funded by the Leif and Joen Mattila Jacobsen Endowment in Campus Ministry.
While Marohl and Fick have heard from students who read and use the devotion book, they note that — as with much of their work — they simply don’t know its full impact on campus.
“We certainly hope that they will get used, but part of our measure of success with it is that they get picked up every fall,” Fick says. “They disappear.”