Freedom, purpose and self-esteem – life at university
When Rebecca Gethin arrived at Bangor university, she had little idea what to expect. A new period of life, new friends and an opportunity to experience academic success as well as enjoying the freedom that comes from leaving home for the first time.
Here, we have the opportunity to hear her story...
Thanks for talking to us. Why don’t we start by you telling us a bit about yourself and your background.
I’m Rebecca, and I’ve been living and working in Bangor for almost eight years, since I moved here to attend university. I was brought up in Bow Street, near Aberystwyth, with my sister and two brothers. My parents worked hard to ensure the best for us, and I remember a childhood full of activities like playing instruments and being part of the county orchestra, camping with the Guides, dancing, horse-riding and orienteering. We’re also a family that loves poking fun at one another and not taking matters too seriously, and I still enjoy going home to see them and hear about the latest escapades. I am so grateful to my parents for the wonderful childhood I had.
You obviously enjoyed your childhood at home. What was your time at school like... did you enjoy it?
That’s a difficult question to answer! To some extent I’m afraid to look back at my time in school – I could be quite a moody teenager! Despite all that, I had an incredible group of friends that did so much to make my time at school an unforgettable experience. I can recall a number of funny and entertaining incidents when we went on music and history trips but most of all I enjoyed studying. I wasn’t very good at things like sports, so studying and especially academic success brought me a lot of enjoyment.
Then off to Bangor to university... Why? (not that there is anything wrong with coming to Bangor!)
I think it was quite a natural decision in one sense. I enjoyed studying and was quite good at it and my school, and my parents, encouraged me to go on to university. I decided to study history, my favourite subject throughout my time at school, and so my father and I went to a few open days, (mainly so that I could practise my driving!) and it was Bangor that felt right to me. It was a city that wasn’t too big or too small, and if there was a problem, home was only a bus ride away.
In what way was university different from school.... did you find the transition easy?
Not at all! I think I enjoyed my new freedom a bit too much – being able to stay in bed until two in the afternoon, and nobody criticising me! Pringles for supper? No problem! This had an impact on my work and compared to school I was no longer top of the class. I missed the structure that school had given me.
This led to a bit of an identity crisis for me – I had always derived so much of my self-worth from my academic success, and suddenly that wasn’t the case anymore. I felt that there was no real point to my life since I wasn’t experiencing the same success as before.
I had a great group of friends who enjoyed a night out, and these nights became a coping mechanism for me. The heavy drinking helped me forget who I was and the feelings of failure – I didn’t like myself at all. But the drinking only served to make me angrier with myself... why couldn’t I sort myself out and just go to the library and work?
You now work for a Christian organisation and live a respectable (!) life as a Christian... What happened?
I still find it rather astonishing sometimes that it was turning to Christianity that helped me. My family used to attend church when I was little, and up until my late teens I had always accepted that there was a God – like accepting that Santa Claus exists. But to be honest I didn’t really understand who this God was and what the point of Christianity was, beyond going to church and being given a Creme Egg at Easter.
I remember, when I went through one or two difficult times at secondary school, trying to talk to God and asking him for help or insisting that he prove his existence to me, but no help came, nor any signs. I came to the conclusion that God didn’t exist, or if he did, he definitely wasn’t interested in me or my life.
At university, I was invited by a couple of girls to go to meetings held by the Welsh Christian Union. One of the girls came from Aberystwyth, and her mother had been a colleague of my mother, so I agreed to go. We used to meet in The Greek in Upper Bangor every week, and a local minister would come and explain part of the Bible to us. That was the first time that I really learnt what the good news of Christianity meant – that God loved me so much that he gave his Son to die in my place, to pay the price for all the bad things I’d done against God. This was a real shock to me – I didn’t really love myself nor did I believe that I deserved love, but here was someone telling me that God loved me!
Although I had heard this wonderful message, and was attending many Christian meetings, I was still not getting my act together and drinking too much. The guilt of behaving like this was still a big worry for me – but the guilt just led to more drinking!
One night, when we were celebrating a friend’s birthday and drinking heavily, I walked away from my friends and ended up falling down on Glanrafon Lane in the middle of Bangor. My face scraped against the ground, and worse than that I had scratched my glasses too. I remember lying there on the floor bleeding away and thinking ‘I really can’t go on living like this’. Fortunately for me, there were Street Pastors (a charity that sends groups of people out on night patrols to look after people who might need help if they’ve been drinking etc) in the car park at the bottom of the hill, and they came to my aid. I felt so ashamed – some of this group would see me in church a couple of days later! I was expecting a sermon and condemnation, but instead I experienced amazing love and patience. I was amazed that these people were out on the streets at midnight to look after people like me.
Later that night (after arriving at the old Octagon night club and deciding that it was the last place on earth I wanted to be) I had a chat with one of the girls from the Welsh Christian Union. I was rather worried about what she was going to say, because she knew me better than the Street Pastors. But once again, I experienced only love – she talked patiently to me and brought me a raincoat to wear.
The morning after (well... the afternoon) I reflected on everything that had taken place the previous night. I felt terribly ashamed of the way I had behaved, but even more than that, I was amazed when I thought about how those Christians had treated me. I began to think about all the things I had heard about God’s love and Jesus’ death on the cross for me. I came to the conclusion that the Street Pastors and my friend were not just good people; they had helped me because they had experienced the reality of Christ’s love, and therefore he loved me and wanted to save me. I wanted to be saved... I certainly needed help of some kind! So, sitting on my bed, with my hangover, I talked to God, apologising for being a mess, thanking him for his love and for the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and asking him to help me to live like a real Christian, like someone who loved Jesus... like someone who accepted that Jesus loved them.
Quite a change. In what way has becoming a Christian changed you and have things been easy since?
Being a Christian means that it doesn’t depend on me anymore, and my value doesn’t come from what I do or don’t do (including any academic success).
God has done it all for me and I’ve been set free, and so I try to live for him out of gratitude, not in order to win his love.
I went on to gain a degree in History, and in July I was awarded a Master’s degree in Welsh History. I would never have had the strength to carry on with the academic work had I not been saved by Jesus Christ. I was no longer studying to increase my self-worth, but I was working hard to bring glory to God, to thank him for the new life he had given me. Although I have to admit some essays were still produced very late in the day!
Believing in Jesus is not like some miraculous medicine that instantaneously changes you and makes you perfect. It’s a work in progress – I still put too much emphasis on success sometimes, and I have to remind myself that that is not what makes me valuable. Sometimes I still feel pretty down and long to get drunk to forget the bad things about me, all the failures and disappointments.
But I try to remember who I am now, since I trusted in Jesus – he loves me so much, warts and all, that he died for me.
My life has value because of that, and this is something I never want to forget.
This is a translation of an article from the Welsh 2017 edition of 'Holi'.