A letter to our students with mid-term blues
I went to the Tollcross end of The Meadows knowing what I was going to see. Just as they do every year, crocuses have arrived and are bringing their colours to the drab greens, browns and greys of Edinburgh. It always happens, it always makes me hopeful: better weather is on its way.
There’s still a lot of winter still around though, isn’t there? The afternoons are less dark but your flats are still cold. This can be a tricky time. The excitement of Christmas has passed and the path to the warm delights of summer are taking you through the steep mountains of exams and assignments. You may also be experiencing tensions with the people you’re currently living with, or in your search for people to live with (and where you’ll live) next year. There are probably other things going on too that make this time of year feel like a dull, hard slog. It’s OK to feel this way, totally natural. I did. But don’t let this be the definitive word for you this term.
I’ve got great, if familiar, news for you: your strength is not enough, and it needn’t be the only strength you have. The Bible is full of people struggling and finding that God is willing and able to provide for their needs. Psalm 121 and Isaiah 40 are two places that tell us this; I’d encourage you to read them in full for yourself but here’s a summary of what they say:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)God knows that you are weak, fragile, fatigued – He’s not surprised or disappointed by that, even if you are. He knew this would happen and He has what you need at this time. The quote above describes the solution as: “they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” How does this happen? God provides ways by which He supplies us with His strength. They are characterised here by the word “waiting” because they involve us relying on Him and not ourselves. I want to mention a few of them to you.
Spending time alone with God may be a struggle for some of you but I promise that this is a major way in which God does us good. Describing someone who studies God’s word diligently, Psalm 1 says: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” The Bible gives strength to us like water does to a tree. It might not be very spectacular but it does happen. Alongside reading the Bible, praying gives God the chance to shape your thoughts, and allows you to take your worries and frustrations to Him. Repenting of the things you’ve done wrong releases the cleansing power of God’s forgiveness. In all this, God’s Holy Spirit is able to move in you and on you, bringing you His presence, peace, and power.
God also does us good through other people – and He wants to use you to do others good as well. Your church family is where encouragement and love and wisdom are shared, as well as lots of food! Our Sunday meetings and small groups are where we help each other receive God’s strength. Worship and teaching do this. Sharing communion reminds us of what Jesus has done for us, and the real hope we have. Chatting with people can bless us, and meeting with a friend or two from church to confess weakness and pray for strength will also do you good.
If you aren’t making time for these things, don’t be surprised if you’re feeling vulnerable – you are missing out on what God has designed to be life-giving for you. Allowing other stuff (accidentally or otherwise) to get in the way of receiving what God has provided for strengthening you is like someone who is starving failing to attend a feast that they’ve been invited to.
These things – Bible reading, prayer, repentance, community, worship, teaching, the Spirit’s power – are the supernatural provision of God for His children’s strength to be renewed. The results may be amazing (“mount up with wings like eagles”) or just enough to get you through another day (“walk and not faint”). However God does it, He will do it.
There is also natural wisdom which you shouldn’t ignore. Good sleep, healthy food, and a bit of exercise will do your body good, and this will impact how you feel. God designed us to need a day’s Sabbath rest every week so don’t think that you’re an exception to this. Some people get energised by being around others, others need quality time by themselves: work out which of these types you are and make time to recharge in the way you need. I think there’s a difference between amusement and refreshment – the internet has a lot of the first but we need more of the second. Find things that refresh you and do them.
With all this to help, you’re now able to get God’s perspective on some of the things you’re going through. Here are some very brief summaries...
It helps to remember that you’re not working for yourself, your tutors, your parents, or anyone’s expectations:
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24)Learning how to get on with others is an important life skill, and flat-sharing is one of the ways we learn it:
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:16-18)You will not stay faithful to God and to others unless you learn discipline. Nothing develops this like slogging through a hard time:
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)This isn’t just about you. You have friends whose only hope currently is the coming summer – you have something much better than that. Ask God to use you to show them this:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)I hope that all of this will be helpful for you. I’m praying for you, confident that our loving Father will supply what you need. I know it feels hard right now but be encouraged: as the crocuses coming through the ground remind us, God is an expert at making life from mud.