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Anxiety on Campus, and in Life – By The Rev. Rutger-Jan Heijmen
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Anxiety on Campus, and in Life – By The Rev. Rutger-Jan Heijmen

Anxiety on Campus, and in Life – By The Rev. Rutger-Jan Heijmen

 

Unknown-1Houston magazine, in its November 2015 issue, is the latest publication to comment on the anxiety epidemic currently afflicting American campuses. The article, entitled “Anxiety Goes to College,” zeroes in on university-aged students, but for those of us with teenagers, we know that compulsive worry is a concern among High Schoolers as well, not to mention their parents!

I am not a medical professional, and so I will not begin to speculate on the physical realities associated with anxiety, but it does strike me that this illness can be connected with cultural messages which, from a Christian perspective, must be called out as lies:

Lie #1 – Your life is under your control.

Our children are constantly bombarded with a supposedly fool-proof formula for success: good grades + good college + good job = happiness. We adults know better. Life is a wild adventure, full of unforeseen ups and downs, joys and sorrows, victories and defeats. Or, as Oscar Wilde so beautifully said, “Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.” Relieving our children of the need to control their lives, and the illusion that they can, will go a long way in helping them find some measure of peace.

Lie #2 – You must justify your existence.

It used to be that “you are what you eat.” Now it’s “you are what you do,” or where you graduated from. The Bible teaches that no matter how much we accomplish, it will never satisfy our need for self-worth. And yet, we find our place in the universe with the simplest of words: “I love you.” A central part of parenting must be eschewing performancism in favor of belovedness as the source of our children’s sense of self.

Lie #3 – You are alone.

So many of us live life believing that we are alone, in both a worldly and eternal sense. Much of this is due to the illusion of strength we constantly try to project in the hopes of winning acceptance. However, as Brene Brown has so powerfully articulated, vulnerability is the key to relationships, both with each other and with God. When we can admit our weaknesses, we will find that we have many more companions for the journey of life.

Lie #4 – This life is all there is. 

To me personally, it is a tremendous comfort to believe that this earthly existence is not the end of the story, that no matter what victories or defeats my children or I may experience, they are not the last word. Christians hold fast to the notion that some day God will make all things right, and that the joy and peace we so desperately seek will be experienced, if only on the other side. Put simply, Christians believe that this earth is not our true home, and so when it is unable to meet our expectations, we can relax a bit, knowing that some day all of our dreams will come true.

The Rev. Rutger-Jan Heijmen

Senior Associate Rector for Adult Education, Stewardship and Student Ministries

St. Martin’s Episcopal Church

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