As you get older you will have more opportunities to spend time away from your home and your family. You might go on residential school trips, take holidays with friends, and eventually almost everyone moves away from their family home. For a lot of people this is when they start a college or university course, for some it could be a job or apprenticeship that they begin at a similar point in life.
Whatever the reason, being away from home – and in particular from your parents – will provide opportunities to make your own decisions in a new way. Living independently at the right stage of life can be a great freedom and really enjoyable. However, it also comes with challenges that you can try to prepare for, but only really understand once you are going through them. How you behave, how you spend your time and money and what kind of friends you make are all parts of life that you will have greater freedom over and, as a Christian, you will want to make wise choices in these areas. Some Christian young people have shared suggestions about some of these challenges, and ways to approach them.
Finding a church
For a Christian moving to a new place, finding a church to belong to should be a top priority in order to continue in fellowship and receive encouragement from other Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25). Looking for a church involves not only finding somewhere that will help you grow as a Christian, but also somewhere you would be best suited to serve and be an encouragement to other church members. There might be one or two local churches where all the students and/or young adults go and you may want to join them. However, it is important to remember that people come from a variety of church backgrounds and are comfortable with different sizes and styles, so you may wish to attend a smaller church. Gospel-centred Bible teaching is, of course, the most important element to look for, but a church where you feel welcomed and comfortable will also help you to settle in and make it more likely that you will go regularly. Settling into a church is something you should do quickly, it helps everything else fall into place more easily. Many young people find it particularly helpful to have a small group or 1 to 1 Bible study with a church staff member or join a home group; if this is not explicitly offered, you could ask about the possibilities. Attending church is particularly important to help you focus on Sunday being the day for rest and worship.
Finding a community
It is much easier to settle into a new place when you have a group of friends, or people who know you and will look out for you. You might find making friends easy, because you are naturally sociable, and you might find that your neighbours are all people you can get on with. However, making friends is not always straightforward and may require some effort. You could join a club to meet people who share your interests or invite people to meet up with you outside of work, classes or church in order to get to know them better. As well as Christian friends, who are vital so that you can support one another in your walk with God, you will of course want to get to know those who are not Christians, just as you will have done at school. But remember, it is harder for us to make wise choices when we are spending time with someone who doesn’t share our worldview (1 Corinthians 15:33). We should be able to be honest about what we believe and not feel we need to hide our views or change our behaviour in order to get on with people (for more about good friendship see this article).
Dealing with pressure from others
Pressure to behave in a certain way can come from a variety of places. For instance, you might find that non-Christian classmates or colleagues want you to spend less time with Christians in order to do something with them, and you wonder if this is something you should resist, or if spending time with them will actually give you more chances to share your faith. This is an area where you will need to strike a balance: if you spend all your time in a Christian “bubble” you will never have opportunities to tell others about the Lord Jesus, but spending too much time with non-Christians is unwise because of the influence they might have on you without encouragement and accountability from other Christians (Proverbs 13:20).
You might also feel under pressure from the expectations of other Christians. For example, when you move away, a lot of people are rightly concerned about how you will maintain your faith in your new situation. It can be overwhelming, especially if you make mistakes (which happens to everyone), and you might feel that you’ve let those people down or be tempted to pretend everything is perfect. You might even worry that, if you don’t live up to their expectations, it means you’re not a Christian. In these situations you will probably look for support from other Christians and in your church you will probably find someone more experienced who can encourage you to be honest with yourself and others. A helpful verse to remember in these situations is 2 Corinthians 12:9: ‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’
Standing out without standing apart
In your social life, you should be willing to be distinct and different. It can be hard to find a balance between standing out (e.g. deciding to drink alcohol only when it’s legal and without getting drunk, even when those around you behave differently) and standing apart (e.g. choosing never to go to social events). Here, it can be really helpful to take advice from other Christians who have been in the same situation. Not only will they reassure you that you’re not alone, but they can help you make wise decisions about how to manage a sensible balance and how to talk to your non-Christian friends about the choices you make.
Some people have said that being different can be a particular problem if you attend a university or college ‘Fresher’s week’. It is important to find out what is going on in a university or college and to get to know and find your way round the town or city that you have moved to. However, some freshers’ activities have turned out to be more of a ‘pub crawl’ or a ‘pairing up’ session, which may involve the pressure to drink (too much) alcohol or make people feel very uncomfortable. Some university Christian Unions offer ‘alternative’ freshers’ week activities and these can be a welcome opportunity to contact other Christians and make good friends right at the start of term. Some hold houseparties before the start of term, so new students can meet up with other Christians before they arrive at the university. Organisations like Christians In Sport and UCCF Leadership Networks may also help Christians to meet others with similar interests, so they can support each other and give advice on living as a Christian in a secular society. In general, it is a lot easier to be distinct and different at university than at school. There are a larger number and a greater variety of people at university and your differences are more likely to be respected than ridiculed.
Young people living away from home for the first time, and perhaps feeling a little vulnerable, also need to be cautious about rushing into a romantic relationship, perhaps as a means to feel love and security. Wanting to feel secure in a relationship can then make it more difficult to resist sexual temptation. Some young people, and especially those without previous teaching from the Bible, have been led to think that it is expected of them to be sexually intimate if they are in a romantic relationship. Do not be pressurised in this way and be prepared to help others be strong too.. You may find that many of your friends are actually grateful to you for being honest about your desire to pursue purity and to keep sex for marriage.
Using your time wisely
Unlike when you’re at home and parents or school set your agenda, when living independently you will suddenly find you have to decide how your days and weeks will run. Of course, your work or study timetable will most likely be set by others, but you will still have a lot more free time to manage. You will need to regulate your meal times, sleep times, social times and make sure you do not leave all your work or revision until the end of term!
It is really helpful to instigate habits and routines. One of these will be your quiet time: finding a time of day for personal Bible study and prayer is important for praising and glorifying God. It is vital to growing your relationship with Him and providing a foundation for all the other decisions you have to make (Matthew 6:33). A good time might be first thing in the morning, or before bed to help you reflect on your day, but if you don’t choose a time that you can keep to each day it will be much harder to build this habit.
Another way to help provide structure to your week is to meet a Christian friend to pray or work through a book or devotional together. Having a regular time to meet will keep you both accountable, not only to your commitment to meeting but also in aspects of life that you discuss and pray about together (Proverbs 27:17).
Once there are a few regular items in the calendar, it becomes easier to work out how much time is left for hobbies or other activities. However, while setting up routines, it is also important to learn to be flexible. We can’t plan for everything that happens and we need to be prepared to postpone something we want to do, for instance if someone needs our help or our work takes longer than anticipated.
Using your money wisely
When you first start to live away from home, you will need to work out how much money you need for different aspects of your life. Budgeting takes practice but you should make plans in advance rather than responding to expenses as they crop up. First of all you should set aside money to support God’s work, which could be through your church, your Christian Union or another Christian organisation. In addition you may need to pay rent for your accommodation, you may need money for travel, and you will of course need to work out how much money you need each week for food and general housekeeping. It is important not to spend all your money as soon as you get it and then run short. It is also wise to put some money aside at the beginning for unexpected extras or special events like friends’ birthday celebrations. Your bank will be able to give you information on setting up standing orders or direct debits so that your regular payments are made automatically. You might also find that a budgeting app or a spreadsheet helps you plan and keep track of your spending.
Everyone needs help!
As we grow older, and our relationship with God becomes closer, we should become more aware of what wise living looks like. But everyone needs help sometimes, and you are not expected to make all your decisions alone just because you’re living on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask advice from an older Christian: your parents are still there to support you even though you’re no longer at home, and there will also be people in your church or house-group who can help. God has given us relationships with other Christians so we can love each other like a family and encourage one another in our faith.
So, if you are considering leaving home for the first time, you might find some of these thoughts helpful. We hope that for you it will be a positive, enjoyable and blessed next stage of life.