The following is the Introduction to David Wheaton's new book, University of Destruction--Your Game Plan for Spiritual Victory on Campus. The book is available at major booksellers or signed copies can be ordered at www.davidwheaton.com.
University of Destruction--Your Game Plan for Spiritual Victory on Campus
Success, Surfing, and Stanford
Stanford? Not a problem.
The week before entering my freshman year at Stanford University, I was riding a major wave ... in more ways than one. I spent the week surfing Pacific rollers in Malibu, California, while visiting my brother, who was toiling away at Pepperdine Law School.
Sitting on my surfboard waiting for the next set of waves to appear, my thoughts drifted back over the previous months--the best summer of my life. In June I had graduated valedictorian of my high school class, and now in September I had just won the U.S. Open Junior Tennis Championships in New York, confirming my place as the top-ranked junior player in America.
I was number one on the court and in the classroom.
How appropriate that in just a few days I would travel up the coast of California to attend the top-rated academic and tennis university in the land ... on a full scholarship, no less.
While I was riding a perfect wave that golden summer, do you think I was concerned about the next stage of my life in college? Guess again.
Welcome to Stanford
My duffel bags had barely touched the dorm room floor when two tennis teammates-to-be barged through the door with pitchers of beer in hand. It may have been the middle of the afternoon, but the party had already started. Girls and guys roamed the co-ed dorm, checking out their new surroundings. Classes started the next day, and I kid you not, I had neither pen nor paper. The first assignment in Great Works of Western Culture, a required freshman class, was to read the books of Genesis and Job. "Easy enough," I thought, since I came from a Christian background and was familiar with the Bible. Imagine my disbelief when the professor and other students ridiculed the Bible and mocked God for the "stupid" way He dealt with mankind. I had never heard "God" and "stupid" in the same sentence before! I was so stunned, I didn't know what to say.
The night life was just as shocking. It was as if all moral restraint had been lifted from the campus. Drunkenness and sexual activity were seemingly everywhere. The overall scene brought to mind images of wanton sailors coming ashore at a foreign port of call. Surely this wasn't Stanford--it was Sodom!
Why was I so surprised by my introduction to college? After all, I had heard what college was like. I had already seen and experienced a taste of campus life on college recruiting visits. I was no potted plant--I had been out of my own backyard plenty of times.
But this was different ... way different. I was now living full-time in the midst of a world diametrically opposed to the one I had grown up in--there would be no returning home to Mommy and Daddy every night. I would soon find out that an excellent upbringing coupled with academic and athletic success was no match for the maelstrom called college. The waters were baited, the sharks were circling ... spiritual shipwreck loomed.
* * *
There is one word that perfectly describes my upbringing: idyllic. In my memory it was as near to perfect as it could be.
Just west of Minneapolis, Minnesota, my parents' home was perched overlooking Lake Minnetonka in a quaint neighborhood called Cottagewood. Whatever the season, life on the lake encompassed our existence. Swimming and sailing in the summer were followed by ice-skating and cross-country skiing in the winter. Living on the lake was so special to us that my mother would let me stay home from elementary school in early December to skate on the newly frozen black sheet of ice.
Life off the lake was storybook too. There was the annual Independence Day parade when all the kids would march around the neighborhood in their patriotic attire. There were the two public tennis courts just down the street from our house where I, at age four, was tossed my first tennis balls by my mother. And there was the outdoor hockey rink across the bay at the local town hall, where my mother would send my brothers and me, saying, "Don't come back till dark."
More than just a lake and a neighborhood, though, what made my childhood especially idyllic was the closeness of our family.
Before I came along, the Wheaton family of five was seemingly complete with my sister, Marnie, followed by my two brothers, Mark and John. But then there were six! My arrival almost nine years after my brother could have generated sibling resentment or apathy toward me. Instead, nonstop affection and attention flowed my way. (Being the youngest can have its advantages, you know.)
My parents set the tone for our family. My father is an even-keeled and kind-hearted man who diligently provided for our middle-class family by working as a mechanical engineer for an air pollution control company near Minneapolis. My mother, dynamic and driven with a keen sense of discernment about people and life, would have been well-suited for a business career but chose to be a homemaker instead. They grew up in the same area, married young, and worked hard to raise a family. This was traditional American stuff.
Most important, my parents based their lives, marriage, and child-rearing on the Christian values found in the Bible, which were not only taught to us, but lived out by them. They were the same people in the home as out of it. We attended church on Sundays and read the Bible together after dinner.
Problems? Arguments? Conflicts? I recall very few.
So it was tennis in the summer and hockey in the winter, with a secure home life wrapped all around me. I entered my teens happy, outgoing, well-adjusted, and successful--academically and athletically. I even played a little piano. My parents (and my brothers and sister, for that matter) had done everything to raise me the right way. By all accounts, I was a good Christian boy.
And then life happened. Idyllic rammed into reality.
Entering junior high, I encountered a different road being traveled by my teenaged peers than the path my parents were bringing me along back home. Issues like dating, sex, alcohol, drugs, and general rebellion against parents and teachers were at the forefront of their conversation and conduct. It was a conflicting message to me, for sure, but at the same time, this different way also held its allure.
Some would pass it off as growing up, reaching puberty, or meeting the real world, but whatever it was, an almost indiscernible change of course began in my life as I gradually partook in some of the things mentioned. This deviation in junior high proved to be the source, and then high school the staging ground, for my future trouble in college. But I digress....
Shortly after I won the Minnesota state high school tennis title as a ninth grader at Minnetonka High School, my parents and I moved to Bradenton, Florida, so that I could train at the famed Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. With my dad now working from home as a consulting engineer and my older siblings embarking on their own careers, my parents had the flexibility to uproot themselves from Minnesota and move to Florida.
My tennis improved dramatically during my junior and senior years of high school in Florida as I trained every day after school with future tennis greats like Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Before long I rocketed to the top of the junior tennis world--elite universities were recruiting, sports agents were visiting, the professional tennis tour was beckoning. Life was as good as it gets for a seventeen-year-old.
The day of my high school graduation brought no valedictory address from me, though, for I was off in Europe with the U.S. National Team playing the Junior French Open and Wimbledon. Returning to America in July, I won a prestigious national junior tournament and then narrowly missed defeating the number one professional player in the world at the time, Ivan Lendl, at a tournament in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Open junior title in New York came a few weeks later, providing a climactic end to an extraordinary summer.
Which brings us back to Malibu. Do you better understand why I wasn't too concerned about the next stage of my life in college at Stanford? As a matter of fact, I didn't even give it a second thought. An idyllic upbringing coupled with remarkable success had bred a bulletproof confidence within me.
Yet the small cracks that appeared in junior high had continued to expand in high school. It would have been very difficult for even my discerning parents to know that I was susceptible to veering down the wrong path in college. Besides, I was mostly compliant toward them, and in comparison to my peers, I was a pretty good kid.
Being a "good kid" wasn't going to be nearly enough to survive college though. Within a week I had seen enough of college that I called my parents on several occasions telling them I wanted to come home. In an odd moment of clarity, something inside me warned that campus life was going to have a very negative effect on me. My parents listened but wanted me to stay. So I did.
Just two months later the roles reversed. After a campus visit by my parents, they started to see college for what it was and asked me if I would consider dropping out in order to join the professional tennis tour. I listened, but now I wanted to stay. So I did.
Why my change of heart?
In two months' time I began to like college. I made new friends. I went to football games. I enjoyed the tennis team. I read about my athletic exploits in the Stanford newspaper. I bought a motor scooter. I made my own decisions. I had fun at parties. And, oh yeah, I met a cute blond girl.
In short, I adapted to college life. My (paltry) desire to adhere to the Christian values with which I had been raised was overwhelmed by the temptations and pleasures of college life. Drinking at parties didn't seem like such a big deal. The anti-Christian philosophies of my professors didn't bother me as much. And late nights with my girlfriend certainly didn't make me want to leave college now.
Details of my decline in college could be inserted here, but they would only serve to give you a point of reference for your own life ("I would never do that!" or "That's all he did?"). I am definitely not the standard.
It is enough to say I was an eighteen-year-old off at university ... the University of Destruction.
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