College can be an extremely stressful place. For many students, especially at Duke, it is. We’re worried about exams, papers, extracurriculars, graduate schools, careers, relationships, finding our identity, the list goes on and on… there is absolutely no shortage of contributing factors that can make the student life stressful, and I feel almost every one of them. However, I believe that all the pressure we face daily does not have to turn into character-deforming, debilitating, persistent stress that defines who we are as human beings. There is hope, and I believe I have found a part of it.
In physics, “strain” is defined as the amount a material deforms relative to its original length. It is a measure of how much a material changes when put under stress. Humans behave in a strikingly similar way. Just like steel, titanium, or carbon fiber, we are constantly subject to different stressors, stressors that can deform us to act out of character. This can manifest itself in different ways, leading people to isolate themselves, be rude to others, skip social events, or not take care of themselves – all serious problems that we must seek to avoid. Like I said earlier, fortunately, there is hope.
A DISTINCT, CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW
In Christ, we can find peace that surpasses all understanding. By placing our hope solely in Him and living our lives under the knowledge that Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, we can put on a new identity of Christ that puts our worldly toil in an eternal perspective. We are told in the Bible God’s plan for the fullness of time: to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. We have a beautiful inheritance resulting from our faith in Jesus Christ, an inheritance available to all who believe and repent, and this inheritance is independent of worldly success and toil.
I know what you may be thinking: I’ve heard all of this before, we shouldn’t stress, our fears have no justification, etc… but I still have so much to do and need to study for my organic chemistry exam so I don’t fail and get rejected from medical school and drop out and fail in life. If you have thought this, I know how you feel. I have felt the exact same way. I understand where you are coming from and empathize with you; I know the mental and physical manifestations of stress and how debilitating they can seem. But again, like I mentioned earlier, I have found hope and joy in work, free from stress, and believe you can as well. For me, the words above in italics have become true and life-giving, giving me security walking into exams, joy doing homework, and excitement seeking towards an uncertain future. Although I have understood these things for a while, stress personally fell away for me on November 14, 2018, following an organic chemistry exam.
AN UNEXPECTED REALIZATION
The week before this exam, I was out of town at a conference and had almost no time to study. I arrived home on a Sunday night, had a makeup exam Monday morning, had a genetics exam Tuesday, and a chemistry exam on Wednesday. Objectively, not the best situation to thrive academically… However, there was one saving grace: we were allowed to drop one chemistry exam, and I figured this would be that exam. I still studied as much as I could, but chose not to pull all-nighters to prepare. The exam did not matter; I could get 0% correct and it have no effect on my grade. Walking in at 6:30 PM, I picked up my pencil, took the exam, checked over my work, acknowledged the sections I did not know, and moved on with my life. The entire time, I had absolutely zero stress because I knew the grade did not count – it was extremely freeing. Walking out, though, I had a pretty quick but serious revelation: why did this exam feel different? Why was I not anxious about the outcome? There was an obvious answer: it didn’t make a difference. But then I began to think: none of my exams make a difference! I believe in Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible, and the Bible teaches us that all on earth is vanity. So… why do I worry about every other exam as if it mattered? They don’t! It literally does not matter how well I perform on tests, nor what career I end up in, nor if I get married, nor if I am wealthy and have a motorcycle, nor if I end up without a home! If I fail chemistry and do not get into medical school, that is fantastic. I was not cut out for it and this was not God’s plan for my life.
That night I understood the peace of God that surpasses all understanding and diminishes all else to nothing – praise the Lord!
I honestly wish that I had a rigid list of steps to follow to reduce stress, but, unfortunately, I do not. However, after reflecting on my experience with that chemistry exam, I have been able to quickly identify and manage stress from a Christian worldview much better than before. Whenever I recognize stress or doomsday thoughts about an exam or something, there is a way out: God. Praying for peace, remembering that wisdom is vanity, and remembering the beautiful inheritance we have in Christ regardless of our worldly toil often give me incredible rest. I still feel the 360° stressers attacking me, but I know the way out and can seek towards that. It is not like a light switch for anxiety, but rather a dimmer that I now have access to turn down. Whenever I feel physical stress welling up or recognize my thoughts focusing on something other than Christ, I remember these truths of my faith and press towards Christ.
A foundational part of this, I believe, is actually developing a serious relationship with God. What this means for each individual varies, but for me, this is actively reading the Bible, praying, thinking, and attempting to act in a Christ-like manner even when my schedule is crazy. To receive God’s comfort and life, we likely have to do more than just wait around for it to slam into us. However, if we are truly and actively seeking it, God will give us much more than we could ever hope for.
OUR WORK, IN A CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW
Joy in our toil is God’s gift to man. If we are so wrapped up in exams and homework that we do not have time for God or others, there is a serious problem. After about the second week of school, we enter a constant period of “midterm season” that lasts about three months until “finals season” hits… if we cannot learn to live faithfully in the midst of work, I believe it will be exceedingly difficult to find true enjoyment in life. We do not have to study 24/7, pull all-nighters, and lose friendships to have an eternally successful life; all we have to do is believe and repent. Our earthly work is honoring to God (he made us to work!), but we were never called to relentlessly pursue worldly desires at the cost of Christ.
I am praying for you the prayer in Ephesians 1:
…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:17-23, ESV)
I hope that, if you have not already, you can accept Christ as your personal savior today and start on a path of peace and life. If you have already accepted Jesus Christ, let this be an encouragement to you and a call to share your life with those around you.
APRIL 2, 2019