Who Cares When Questions Send You Reeling?

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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.



Universities, inefficient by design…

Universities are inefficient by design but also have big payoffs for society.

We assume that private enterprise generates what is so casually called “innovation” all by itself. It does not. The Web browser you are using to read this essay was invented at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The code that makes this page possible was invented at a publicly funded academic research center in Switzerland. That search engine you use many times a day, Google, was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation to support Stanford University. You didn’t get polio in your youth because of research done in the early 1950s at Case Western Reserve University. California wine is better because of the University of California at Davis. Hollywood movies are better because of UCLA. And your milk was not spoiled this morning because of work done at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Read more of this article at Slate.

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.

Routines and University

So you are a returning student to University and you know that you OUGHT to create some new routines for your life.  Don’t let laziness keep you from putting into place some habits that will help you in the long run.  And, don’t despair new habits really do take time and practice to establish; some people have suggested that it takes 42 days to put a new habit firmly into place.

Routines like brushing your teeth and washing your clothes–well we hope those are in place.  But if you are just showing up as a new student or you were really went on holiday even from your routines over the summer, now is the time to get some of these in place.  Its unlikely that you will get them all going but here’s a few.  At Origin, You Were Born for More we talk about two sets of habits or routines:  Get Alone habits and Get Together habits.  These habits are supportive of Jesus’ call for us to love God and to love people.

Here’s a list of possible routines that would really help you during University.

  • Sleep routine.
  • Study routines.
  • Work-Out routines.
  • Set up a study group.
  • Nail down when you are going to do laundry.
  • Get connected in a faith community.  These groups have regular rythms of life that  often contribute to a healthy life.
  • Pay attention to your money:  When do you pay the bills, check your balances, contribute to your assets and savings?
  • Call home.  Stay connected with family and friends.
  • When do you grocery shop and where?
  • Prayer.
  • Get into a regular Bible study group.
  • Study breaks — walks work for me!
  • Meditation and personal reflection.
  • Join a group to regularly “give back” through community service.
  • Journalling.
  • Set up a dinner group.
  • Set up a learning group.
  • Set up a social group for whatever you really like to do.
  • Join a club–Participation in the club might even pull several of these needs together for you.
  • When do you clean the place up?  Clutter distracts!

You may have noticed at some of the Residences or at Irving K Barber, The UBC Chaplains are encouraging students to put routines in place this month.  Many routines connect to the spiritual side of life!

Here’s a picture of my friend Kevin, from St. Marks, connecting with students at the Irving K Barber Centre for Learning at UBC.


What routines are you putting in place this month?




The impact of faculty on the spiritual life of university students

Alexander W. Asten, Helen S. Asten, and Jennifer A Lindholm, UCLA, published a full report on their extensive study of the spiritual lives of university students in the book Cultivating the Spirit: How College can Enhance Students’ inner lives (2011, Josey-Bass).

Among the many interesting observations drawn from their study are comments on the impact a school’s faculty has on spirituality among students.

When faculty directly encourage students to explore questions of meaning and purpose, students become more likely to show positive growth in levels of Spiritual Quest, Equanimity, Ethic of Caring, and Ecumenical Worldview.  Likewise, if faculty attend to students’ spiritual development by encouraging students’ expressions of spirituality, and by acting themselves as spiritual role models, students show more positive growth in the same four spiritual qualities as well as in Charitable Involvement.

Remarkably, many of the faculty we surveyed consider themselves to be spiritual (81% indicate so to “some” or a “great” extent) and to be religious (64%).  Also, six in them faculty indicate that they engage in prayer or meditation to “some” or a “great” extent, and about seven in ten tell us that they seek opportunities to grow spiritually.  Moreover, almost half of faculty (47%) consider integrating spirituality in their lives as a “very important” or “essential” goal.  As one faculty member we interviewed explained: “It’s an important part of life. How can you live life without it? Otherwise, what are you?  You might as well be a robot.”  Another commented, “My spirituality is part of me affirming my humanity.”

Although many faculty view the spiritual dimension of their lives as important, we nevertheless observe considerable reluctance within faculty on the place of spirituality in high education.  For example, when asked whether “colleges should be concerned with students’ spiritual development,” only a minority of faculty (30%) agree, a response that seems inconsistent with the fact that the majority of faculty endorse undergraduate goals such as helping students develop self-understanding, moral character, and personal values.  As we have already said, this apparent contradiction may well stem from the discomfort many faculty have with the term “spiritual.”  One wonders if some of this discomfort would be alleviated if faculty knew how we have attempted to define and measure “spirituality” in the current study and what we have found with respect to students’ spiritual development.

In other words, it would be interesting to see how many faculty would embrace the idea of assisting students in their search for meaning and purpose (spiritual quest), in attain greater equanimity, in being more  caring for others (ethic of caring), in participating more actively in charitable activities, and in becoming more conversant with different religious traditions and enlarging their understanding of other countries and cultures (ecumenical worldview).  As one faculty member reflected:  “I’d say there’s very little opportunity (on campus) to talk specifically about spiritual matters.  On the other hand, there’s lots of opportunity to talk about some of the principles that come out of that, like compassion; a willingness to help others; finding your own voice; and knowing yourself.  The principles that come out of spiritual orientation can be, and in fact are, integrated into a lot of the academic life.  But my impression is that talking about it directly is discouraged.”  Cultivating the Spirit, p. 150-151.

As I reflect on my own university experience the faculty that made the most impact in my life shared not often but sometimes their spiritual perspectives and musings as it related to what we were studying.  I remember both negative and positive responses in myself and my classmates.  But there’s the thing — I remember.  Of all the many classes forgotten, these are what I remember.  As I think about the students and faculty at UBC I hope the value of engaging the spiritual conversation in the context of the classroom will be raised — for there much memory and influence for good can be gained.

Cultivating the Spirit.