So I read this post on Her.meneutics (a Christianity Today blog directed toward women) today about over committed and stressed out college students turning Adderoll. As a recently graduated law student I am intimately aware of the pressure to do and be committed to too much as a college and/or graduate student. However, I cringe at the solution offered here that these students should simply be taught (and expected) to commit to less. After practicing the Sabbath throughout my time as an undergraduate and into the first year of law school, I realized that it just wasn’t practicable any more. Academic demands had increased, I needed to work both for the experience and the financial reasons, I wanted to take time to serve in my church in order to develop community and fellowship there, and yes, I wanted to do fun stuff on occasion which sometimes resulted in me working on Sundays. While taking the Sabbath was a great form of spiritual discipline, it just pushed activities and stress to other times of my week.
College students seem to have more discretionary time at their disposal than any other group of people (something I would have wholeheartedly denied as a college student, but see differently now). This doesn't undermine the fact that students are stressed, there is pressure to fill all of that free time with various activities and commitments. The hard thing is that college kids want do to it all, or at least I did anyway. Instead of telling them to say no (because they won’t), I think the Church, Christian colleges, and even secular schools need to offer better resources for dealing with stress and heavy workloads so that students don’t turn to unhealthy behaviors like using Adderall. In a systemic sense I think the availability and destigmatization (<-- not a word, but this is my blog so I get to make up words) of mental health services is imperative, but beyond that as Christians we have something else to offer.
We need to remember and remind each other that we are defined by Christ. Our worth comes solely from God and our value is not earned, but given to us out of grace. Truly understanding and believing this has huge ramifications for how we experience success and prioritize our lives. This does not necessarily solve the problem of feeling over whelmed or over committed at times, but it completely changes what we turn to in those times. This is not a quick and easy solution. Instead it is a continual process of sanctification and the Church has an opportunity to help students grow in their understanding of this.
In my experience, mentorship by godly spiritually mature women was (and is) an invaluable resource for self-reflection and spiritual growth. These women have continually been a source of encouragement and a dose of reality for me. Both as an undergraduate and a graduate student I lived far from my parents and the normal day to day life I grew up in. Both in Berkeley and here in Minnesota I have had a families from church opened their homes to me on a weekly basis. I didn't feel like a guest in their home, but I mean that in the best way possible. I just felt like I was at home, except these homes had little kids who wanted to throw darts, play dress up, or watch a movie with me and they weren't always on their best behavior. The point is that they reminded me that there was more to life than my busy college world and gave me a sense of normalcy among the chaos. I also had a strong community of friends who were dealing with the same stresses I was and were plugged into similar support networks. We related to each other and were able to be real with each other. They provided me with accountability as well as an outlet for some of my stress. In the context of these communities, I was reminded daily that my hope is in Christ and that even in the midst of stress and feeling like I am drowning I am loved.
Sure, I could have said no to more stuff and I might have been less stressed, but stress is inevitable no matter what you do (right?). What kept me afloat was the community I was surrounded by continually reminding me of my identity in Christ.
P.S. Sorry there is so much churchy jargon in this post. Hopefully the point still gets across.