Student life as a young Christian can be one of the most bewildering and challenging periods of your life.
There are so many new things--challenges, mostly--clamouring for your attention. Uncertainties, ambitions, all the enjoyments of life; and often, so many priorities you haven't quite sorted out for yourself, or at least in application, yet.
Add on top of this all these challenges in a spiritual aspect, and overwhelming would be a good summary.
(Of course, this has a point. Youth is the best time for facing challenges creatively and courageously, rising to meet them with energy, spirit, and hopefulness. Though to be frank I don't think most young people feel exactly brimming over with energy, spirit, and hopefulness. More like ceaselessly dog paddling just out of your depth, your toes grazing the pool bottom every now and then giving you a fleeting sense of stability; other times your whole head goes underwater and the chlorine stings the inside of your nose.)
At this point in life, whether it's angsty teenagers or young adults struggling to adapt to the label 'young adults,' life and maturity largely boils down to navigating that fine balance between our often conflicting desires to be independent, and to be dependent.
(At least, from my own personal experience; a lot of the stress I experience stems from managing priorities. Fellow young adults, please correct me if I'm generalizing.)
Whichever one applies most in your case. Maybe that means being emotionally and psychologically strong. Or financially independent. Or being able to handle all the stuff that life throws at you without feeling stressed or lost (read: impossible.) We look to adults/older Christians both as role models, as people who had successfully survived/navigated this period of life and more or less (at least comparatively) seem to have found their own feet and a measure of stability and strength--spiritual or otherwise. At the same time, we struggle how exactly to define our relationship to adults, wanting to not have to depend on them, yet simultaneously still needing some guidance and help in our goal to achieve the sense of stability and security we associate with them.
This explains why, though it certainly shows love and care for your child if you cover them with concern and pre-empt their every need, it also reaffirms your child's awareness of how dependent that makes them, and simultaneously reaffirms their desire to be independent. We want ultimately to be treated as equals, but we're still vulnerable enough to need some TLC now and then. If you keep that paradox in mind, you won't feel so confused or resentful why we respond sometimes in the ways we do, and you'll be more able to give us the help we need. And forgive us, when we react ungratefully or ungraciously or just plain incomprehensibly. Or realize that perhaps the ways you thought you were helping us might be backfiring, despite your good intentions.
Whether you're a parent trying to care for the spiritual life and wellbeing of your child, or a kind soul reaching out to students in your church/life, here are some ways that I've personally found encouraging and helpful in my own time as a student.
1. Care for their physical needs.
This may mean little care packs of study snacks, oranges to help ward off colds and flus, herbal soup to boost focus during those all-nighters, buying them their favourite coffee, providing a quiet place to study, or a ride back to save on travelling time. Be creative with the gifts and resources God has given you. As a student, dollars matter so much. Food is vastly important.
2. Communicate and pray faithfully for them. Keep track of the big challenges in their lives so you can support them during those critical times, whether it's finals or waiting for results to be out, or knowing when they're stuck in a nightmarish group project with horrible team members. Let them know you're available when they need to talk, and be sensitive to gage when they do need help. Text them short, simple encouragements that don't require lengthy answers in reply. I remember feeling almost a sense of dread having to muster up the time and energy to give a detailed update on myself, when it wasn't a good time. Is this just an introvert thing? I think not.
On communication: Communication is a two-way thing. It's unfortunate, but just because you want us to confide in you doesn't automatically mean we will be as effusive and appreciative as you might think we ought to be. We may have inhibitions about opening up to adults, or fears on how you might judge us, or simply not feel ready to make ourselves vulnerable. And we've probably all had bad experiences/memories of condescending adults. Children get the worst of this, I'm telling you. Have you heard the way some adults talk to kids? Even I cringe. The worst part about opening up to someone is when they leap to conclusions and assume that they know exactly what it is, and how we should resolve it, full of I-am-older-and-more-experienced-than-you-so-I-automatically-know-better. And we creep away even more confused, unsettled, wondering if we were arrogant to dare to think otherwise, and mentally vowing never to expose ourselves to this kind of situation again. As with any other relationships, don't come to communication and interaction with a sense of entitlement, which usually arises when our motivation is dutifulness rather than sincere love and respect. I'm guilty of it myself!
3. Help us by giving us the perspective we often are too near-sighted to see. This is one of the great benefits of being older--you have a much more mature and far-sighted perspective of decisions, priorities, and events. Without downplaying and dismissing the emotional and psychological significance of things which seem to be the end of the world to us, help us to see an alternative, that life doesn't have to go exactly as we think it has to, or other people tell us it has to, in order to live a happy and productive life that glorifies God.
Or, help us to have more balanced experience and perspective on life. Help remind us that life isn't all about grades, success, (add in word of choice) but that simple things like cooking your own food, playing with children, sweating it out over sports, laughing with friends, a bunch of flowers, beautiful music, and a walk outside remind us why we were created, and by Whom.
4. Take an interest in our friends, the people in our lives, what we feel is important.
5. Encourage us by affirming our growth, abilities, and gifts. Constantly being made aware of our limitations and shortcomings, we deal with insecurity, feeling incompetent, internal and external expectations for ourselves, criticism--ah, I won't go further, it sounds like a pity party; I've written on the pressures of growing older elsewhere.
Encouragement goes a long way. Especially at this time when we're still discovering who we are, or who we want to be. When we're struggling to do everything required of us and be more, be better than who we were yesterday.
Most of all, God bless you for your kindness in wanting to help us during this bewildering and challenging, if fulfilling time of life. I saw a quote once which I've been trying to live out since, and which I think aptly sums up much of the thoughts in this post: be who you needed when you were younger.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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