Who Cares When Questions Send You Reeling?

photo - Version 2

University sometimes lives up to its name. Sometimes we truly are a “community of truth seekers.” Then we embody one of our most idealized visions of university life. Truth seeking will direct us into the big questions of life. When that happens most of us are likely to experience a disorienting wave of not knowing. This dis-equilibrium is often a necessary part of learning: knowing that I don’t know; knowing that I must seek; knowing that I must ask.

Truth brings us into spiritual questions and a spiritual quest. Many people panic, ignore, and coverup these questions. We are not in the habit of leaning into spiritual questions. Consider our avoidance of reflection and consideration of death is one example of our efforts to avoid spiritual struggle.

Spiritual Struggle and University

The Huffington Post reports on recent studies examining the spiritual lives of university students. The conclusion regarding spiritual struggles and its dis-equilibrium are not encouraging for our current generation of students.

“Findings in this study suggest that spiritual struggles are a significant factor in the health and well-being of college students,” researchers reported in the latest issue of the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. “These results suggest that students may be utilizing unhealthy patterns (e.g., addiction) as one way to cope with their spiritual struggles and other life stressors.”

The finding is consistent with a developing body of research revealing the complex nature of religion and mental health. The assurance of a loving God concerned with their welfare helps many people deal with life’s stresses, but individuals with a less secure attachment to the divine may face greater problems with anxiety and depression.

The challenge for caregivers and religious individuals and communities is to help people through their periods of struggle with doubts that can be part of an active spiritual journey.

Read more.

The mind has little patience for ambiguity and mystery unless there is a framework speaking to it. As a follower of Jesus I know Christian faith must become my own. The  process of owning faith often involves struggle. Struggle is part of faith.

Knowing Jesus has not been the end of spiritual struggle. Rather Jesus brings me into the challenge to learn and grow in my faith. Following Him brings me directly in contact with the darkest aspects of our brokenness.

Knowing I am Loved

But what has been steady, is a clear and enduring attachment to God through Jesus Christ. I know I am loved. And its this confidence I wish for all our friends in Origin Church and in the UBC campus community. Grace, the unmerited favour of God, for the forgiveness of sin through Jesus’ work and the promise of ever-present and on-going life in His presence, has allowed me to live loved. Meaning and purpose for life, for studies, for virtue and morality, and for hope is found in Him. We believe you were born for more than existential despair or bondage to your passions.

I do remember times and seasons of my life when my questions have sent me reeling. Its too easy to seek a temporary restoration of a shallow happiness by turning to people, my achievements, my appetites, or my ambition for wealth as a salve. These are easy and available. They are championed by many as ready-made solutions. Yet, they were never meant to bear the weight of our souls. We will be crushed under them and in turn we will crush others up on whom we lay our souls, unless we lay our soul on Jesus Christ. He is the champion of God over sin, disillusionment, and even death. I have come to believe only Jesus is sufficient. I believe Jesus cares.

So who cares when you are reeling over your questions of life?

Jesus cares. I care.  And there are others in communities of faith in Christ who care. Chaplains from a variety of perspectives at your university care. I encourage you to enter into a circle of hope, faith and love built around the person of Jesus Christ. I invite you to come and see what our life with Jesus is like before, after, and even during that period of life with the questions that spin our souls and leave us reeling.

University can be a period of intense growth. You can become a person of courage, humility, love, and integrity. University can be a season when faith deepens and  grows not in despair but in joy!

A Vision of Faith for People in a World of Disturbing Questions
Romans 8:28-30
28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?36As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Block F

woods

On the eve of the equinox
I heard the frogs sing
under starlit skies.

They carried me on their song
to places I had been before
and caused me to wonder.

Who else had quietly walked
this trail between the gentle caress
of swordferns seeking home?

I drew in my breath
but the damp warming soil
would not give up their names.

What do you believe about stress?

For the most part my friends at UBC are not too stressed… yet. However, I’ve been thinking that before it gets tough it might be good to pre-load some different thinking about stress.

How you think about stress even what you believe about stress makes a difference.

Jesus was straightforward with His disciples on the matter encouraging them not to think that following Him was the end of stress. He said, “In this world you will have troubles.” Through the Gospel of Jesus we are encouraged to consider our troubles as an opportunity to grow in our faith. James writes,

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  James 4:2-4

Activating our faith in Jesus gives meaning and resets our outlook to being God-centered rather than self-centered.

I have wondered if our faith affects us physiologically, all they way to a cellular level.

In the talk below Kelly McGonigal, who has been talking about how bad stress is for us, shares how recent studies have changed her message.

 

 

 

If its not social, its not green.

This is my new internal setting on the sustainability conversation.  “If its not social, its not green.”  Social sustainability must become a balancing value to the math required for sustainable buildings and neighbourhoods.  Our green ambitions become moot when the humans who inhabit those spaces are not able to be healthy in relationships and communities as they live, work, and play.  Yes the ecological footprint of rooms large enough to accommodate community assemblies of 150 to 350 people are bigger, cost more, and ruin the green math.  But without these kinds of spaces in our urban and campus communities, humans will not live well.  Raising the social sustainability value will bring some sense to the whole sustainability conversation.  If its not social… its not green!

Broken Generation

People are still discussing the Macleans article “The Broken Generation.”  Why? Because the problem for students is real and there are people who care.  There is a campus crisis.  “A quarter of university age Canadians are dealing with mental illness, most often excessive stress, anxiety, and deep depression.”

Here’s an excerpt of the article:

Some problems are the natural ups and downs of life, like a bad mark or a sloppy roommate. There’s a question of whether today’s young adults are somehow less equipped to cope. “Not all pressures can be removed,” says Woolf, principal of Queen’s. “There is pressure just by going to university, or doing anything in life.” When he was in university in the 1970s, he recalls, students didn’t fret so much about their marks, or employment prospects after graduation.

“If we got a bad mark, it was ‘Too bad, on to the next one,’ ” Woolf says. “There’s a generation of students now—and I’m not saying it’s every student—but a tendency to want to be a winner in all that they do. They all get a trophy at field day; they all get a treat bag at the party; and then they get to university and suddenly find they’re now playing in a different league, and no longer necessarily the smartest in their class.” Woolf is quick to note that serious, long-term mental health struggles are a different matter.

The ability to cope is an acquired skill, and one that takes time to learn. “I speak to parents who insist their children not take summer jobs so they can go to summer school, to get the best marks,” says Trent University psychology professor James Parker, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Emotion and Health. “I say, ‘I’m not sure that’s the best strategy.’ ” It’s often at those summer jobs that kids learn resiliency: serving coffee, waiting on tables and dealing with demanding bosses and crabby customers. Overprotective parents may think they’re helping their kids, but once these kids arrive on campus, small problems can seem overwhelming.

Getting over the hurdles of life takes time for introspection, and that’s also in short supply. Students aren’t left alone with their thoughts on the bus to school or the walk across campus. They’re texting, listening to music, checking Facebook or Twitter, often all at once. There’s no time to mull over difficult, complicated emotions, and no immediate reason to do it, either.

Our team serving Born for More and Origin in the UBC campus community realize with other campus ministries that the issue of mental distress and illness must be brought out from the shadows.  I am pleased that Power To Change is hosting Tim Chan and Dr. Sharon Smith tonight at Wood 1 at UBC.  I encourage you to go and consider the information and the insight they have.  Tim will be sharing from personal experience and how his faith informed his journey through his depression. He has written about it on his blog.