You’ve embarked on four (or more) years of study. What will you do with your years in college?
Ten R's for renewal
Here are ten principles that seem to be universal guidelines for avoiding “brownout” as an active student (see the parent article of this sidebar, Prescription for renewal, for a description). Note, however, that if you try to do all of them, you won’t be renewed. You’ll be dead. So listen to the Lord and let him tap you on the heart for just one or two of these.
1. Be realistic about who you are. Know yourself and what refreshes you. When I was in school and had days when I felt I couldn’t cope, I played my double bass. There was something about the physicalness of playing this huge instrument that engaged me completely. Today, when I need to feel renewed, I seek the company of children (so whimsical and fun!) or drive around my favorite city, Chicago, studying the architecture. Every artist is trying to say something about God, and I look for what they’re trying to say.
2. Realize who you are in Christ. When we realize anew just how much God is committed to us despite our work and how much he loves us apart from what we do, self-esteem rises and stress lowers. We no longer have to prove anything to God. (Study Ephesians 1 and 2 to get a handle on our new spiritual position in Christ.)
3. Discover your rhythms of rest and work. As a student, sleep varies, you miss meals and you may have a job with odd hours. Prepping for leadership meetings, large group meetings, New Student Outreach, mid-terms, new leader selection, planning camps, raising funds for global and urban projects, studying for exams can be intense. Work with friends you talk to a lot to create daily or weekly no-call periods. Can you build in a quiet time or a restful activity that can become a routine?
Another skill of leadership is learning how to say no to things. It’s hard. But when we say yes to something, we’re automatically saying no to other good things. It helps to ask, Am I really the one who should do this?
4. Get adequate rest and sleep. God has made us to need sleep. All that you experience during the day gets processed, sorted and filed in your brain during sleep. If you are deprived of sleep, too much is being stuffed into a smaller file cabinet. You’ll start to lose concentration. You’ll become emotionally volatile. Your brain’s file is bulging and spilling.
The human body needs seven to ten hours of rest each night. We must let the body renew itself. I’ve heard prominent Christians who talk about the need to discipline ourselves to need less sleep in order to do more work. As one with medical experience and as one whose work means that I often lack enough sleep, I don’t buy it.
5. Regular meeting with God. Renewal is spiritual as well as physical. We need time to be with him privately and with other believers. I find well-led group worship to be extremely refreshing. But if you’re the one working to make sure the worship is being well led, then it’s less likely that it can minister to you. Be sure to find a church that helps you worship God in spirit and in truth.
On the private level, ask yourself what it takes for you to meet with God at this period in your life. (You’ll find that your answer changes at different stages and in different circumstances.) A neglected relationship can’t remain healthy for long, so be sure to guard your times with God!
6. Try taking retreats. I guard my monthly retreat times (and so do others who know I need those times!). Retreats allow us to be gut-level honest with the Lord. I use part of my time to evaluate myself and look for areas where sin may be creeping in. I also use retreats to make many of my major decisions. Retreats allow me to hear God’s voice. You may not have access to a retreat center, but it’s worth checking into. Look for some place out of the ordinary. Set yourself apart for a day where you won’t be distracted, and maybe far enough away so you can’t return to regular business. Busy students might consider this for just an evening to start, or for half of a day, perhaps a Sunday afternoon. Turn your cell phone off. Listen to Jesus saying to you, as he did to the disciples: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31).
7. Build relationships that keep you accountable. The older I’ve gotten the more important a pastor has become to me. For a long time, I didn’t know how to receive pastoral care. And frankly, I’d met few clergy who knew how to give it. But when my father died, my pastor came alongside me to help me deal with it. And that’s when I first allowed someone to step in spiritually and “pastor” me. This is different from having a discipler who trains us in spiritual disciplines. A pastor’s role is to lead sheep to food, water and rest (see Psalm 23.) Who can be a pastor to you?
We also need a few close friends who keep us honest. I have three friends who know my heart and soul. They prevent me from becoming bitter when I’m stressed or suffering. They make sure that I don’t just get angry and pout. I’ve also asked them to keep me accountable in areas where I know I am prone to sin. So they ask me the very hard questions. Seduction in any form is not up-front, otherwise it wouldn’t be seduction. So we need people who will ask the hard questions, and we need the maturity and humility to submit to their probing insights.
8. Plan recreation time. Take it as seriously as you do planning work time. If you don’t have things planned, it’s too easy just to vegetate. The drug of choice is TV, followed by aimless wandering on the internet. Staring at the tube or just lounging around may actually be one of the worst things for you to do. Many people, after a wasted evening, enter a guilt cycle: “What a waste of time. I could have done this, or that, instead. Now my time’s gone, and I feel like I haven’t even had a chance to do what I wanted to do!” (Read principle number one again.) Decide in advance what is renewing to you, whether it be an exercise session or a trip to the art museum. Be creative while you’re fresh; it’s hard to know what’s renewing when you’re tired.
9. Repent if necessary. Sometimes what keeps us from being renewed is sin in our lives. Sometimes our love for Christ has cooled. At times like that, we must go to the foot of the cross and remember what Christ did for us. Not for my friends, or for my family, but for me. Repentance means turning. Somehow we’ve turned away from our Father. Repentance is realizing it and turning around to look at the Lord again.
10. Take a reality check. Some people are so stressed that they will feel immobilized, unable to implement any of these ideas. If you’re in that position, professional counseling can give you some perspective and some skills for getting moving again. Also, there may be deeper issues in your life which need to be addressed before complete renewal and healing can occur.
If you’re encouraged by what you’ve read, go back and scan the numbered headings again. Do you see some principles that would establish patterns of renewal in your life? Which one or two things could you start with?
—Jay Sivits, Associate Director for Graduate & Faculty Ministries