A Haven in the Chaos

Join Elizabeth Weller as she looks back on her time as a UVA student at the Study Center, painting a picture of a safe haven of Christ's love in the midst of the chaos of university life. 

Elizabeth Weller
Photo by Abby Vendt. 

Nearly four years ago, my mom and I visited UVA for summer orientation. She had heard about this place called the Center for Christian Study and was (not uncharacteristically)  excited to help make the introduction. I soon found myself, wide eyed and a little—very—dazed, sitting around a table at Bodo’s surrounded by my parents, my future roommate and her parents, two members of Study Center staff, the RUF campus minister, and a third-year student who had somehow been roped into this meeting.

I don’t remember much about that lunch, probably because I spent much of it nervously trying to appear “normal” to my future roommate, but I do recall my mom telling me as we walked out that the Study Center would be my “home away from home.” She also made sure I had the address in my phone and knew the exact directions there from my dorm.

In that moment I was completely unsure whether her prediction would ring true. As I have learned over the past four years, moms are almost always right: the Study Center has been my home. It has been a safe haven and has truly shaped my time at UVA. The random yet friendly faces I met at Move-in Day Lunch turned into small group leaders, mentors, and classmates. Many of them went on to welcome me into each of their fellowships as I sought to find my own place. I never would have guessed that the  crowd I met that day would become my crew.

It's been an organic process, one that has happened without my noticing, through Friday afternoon small groups, class dinners, trivia games, exam snacks, and rush hospitality craziness. Sundays spent studying at the Study Center, with extra time budgeted for lengthy breaks in the kitchen, have been good for my soul. Compared to the palpable anxiety I feel walking into Clemons Library, the Study Center has offered an uplifting environment to study. From watching the sun rise and set in the library to all the moments in between, the Study Center has been a safe retreat. It's been here where, when the routines of dorm life needed to be broken, my friends and I could bake cookies in the kitchen or take blankets, pillows, and hot chocolate out on the balcony to watch a movie under the stars.

I cannot begin to name each of the meaningful friendships that began in and through the Study Center. In my first and second years especially, the Study Center offered an unintimidating space to greet upperclassmen. This contributed greatly to feeling known and feeling like I knew UVA in return. As I joined clubs and explored coffee shops around town, I would see these older students and feel comfortable. And now as a fourth year, when people ask how I know someone, the answer is more often than not a shrug and “#studlife.”

I think one of the ways the Study Center community shares Jesus with me best is by welcoming me in wholly, not just the parts that are easy to love, but all of my brokenness, too. As UVA students, we feel the pressure to effortlessly be the ideal student—accomplished, busy, a leader, social, you name it. One consistency throughout my friendships in the overlapping Study Center and RUF communities is a willingness to be open about the ways in which we consistently strive for and fail to meet this ideal.  The staff and students in the Study Center community do not place my worth in my accomplishments. Instead they listen, encourage, and vulnerably share their own stories of imperfection while gently calling me to the Cross. They have taught me that lasting friendships embrace inconvenience. They show me that the better I understand the Gospel, the more I see my own neediness: although I am entirely sinful and incapable on my own to stand before judgement, Jesus promises to hold perfect control in the everyday. He can be trusted.

Within the Study Center  community, I can let my guard down. I am known, loved, and safe. It fulfills this desire for safety, value, and security UVA students are desiring and points to the ultimate fulfillment of these things in Christ alone. In a world that makes a lot of noise, the Study Center  is a haven that claims the strength of silence and the necessary reset of stillness. To know the Study Center community is to feel known and loved.