Does anyone else feel like September is the real January? It’s the optimistic month of “new-school-year-resolutions,” right? It’s common to enter a new year with sky high expectations, only to have them dashed by Thanksgiving, when you feel three weeks behind on all your work… and wait! don’t you have a midterm tomorrow at 8am? Better start studying now…
September can feel exciting and hopeful. What will this new year hold? Whether it’s your first September on campus or your last, this is an opportunity for growth and a chance to avoid making the same mistakes year after year.
September can also feel daunting and stressful. How should I best manage my time? How can I juggle everything in my life? Most of us probably experience these positive and negative moments at the same time, which can affect our mental health.
A mental health crisis
This past year, reports have begun to expose the reality of mental health crises on campuses across Canada. This has been going on for far too long, often behind closed doors, masked by flashy university advertisements of a perfect dorm experience with the best food, new athletic centers, and cutting edge research.
Perhaps university brochures should really read: come to this school where you will experience crippling anxiety, distant TAs, and unrelenting deadlines.
Those of us on campus know the truth. Students can feel like they’re drowning in work, trying to meet a standard of expectations that may not even be feasible. These expectations can come from their professors, parents, and even themselves. There is also a daily, moment by moment battle for your attention, time, and limited resources.
For those who are following Jesus, should our experience of university be different? God shouldn’t feel like another thing to do. How are we to honour God with our full selves? Our time, school, hearts, and relationships? How do we do it all? Should we even be trying to do it all?
This September, choose rest. Rest will help you navigate this new school year so that you can see the bigger picture, have peace and clarity in decisions, and hopefully thrive and not dive.
If that sounds terrifying and you feel like you don’t have time to read this article, then you really should read it. It’ll only take 5 minutes I promise. And then you can go back to cramming, Instagramming, or procrastinating after.
What is rest?
Rest is not sloth (a reluctance to work or laziness). Rest is not procrastination (the action of delaying or postponing something). Rest is not escapism (the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy).
Rest is intentional. It’s a choice to stop your “work” and participate in an activity that will rejuvenate or “fill you up”. If your life is like a cup, you can’t keep pouring yourself out without refilling the contents. What “fills” you up? Rest includes a variety of activities and options and can change based on the season and circumstances. It can seem elusive; we often chase what we hope may be restful (like finally getting around to reading that novel, for example), sometimes obtaining it, and sometimes just missing it.
Rest can involve self care. It can look like being proactive, making wise decisions, and helping your future self with the choices you make today. True self care is creating a life that you don’t need to run away from.
Rest is an invitation! Ongoing rest is a model set forth by God, given to his people, and is something he invites us to do and trust him with. We can experience rest when we trust that God is in control of the bigger picture and works alongside us to help us in our work. We are not left to try and fit the pieces of life together on our own.
Rest can look very different for different people. Some might consider it restful to go on a morning jog. Some might find rest in taking time to plan and organize their week ahead. Some may find rest by hanging out with a group of their closest friends. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to rest, but there are principals to help you determine whether your idea of “rest” truly is rest. Here are four or those principles.
1. Rest increases productivity
Personally speaking, my biggest regret from university was not sleeping enough or eating healthier. There’s a definite link between rest (basic principles in caring for your body), and productivity. How can you expect to perform at your highest with only 4 hours of sleep and living off stale pizza and red bull? You really can’t. Your body may be able to survive under strain for a short period of time (perhaps the length of your undergrad), but it’ll crash shortly after. It’s not a long-term, sustainable, lifestyle. Trust me.
If you think about athletes in the olympics, they are hyper focused. They have a strict diet and sleep schedule because they are focused on the prize: performing at the highest level of sport. The night before their event, you won’t find them partying until 3am in the Olympic Village. Their self discipline, developed after years of saying no to short term gain to strive after long term reward, keeps them on task.
In order to produce, we need to care for ourselves. Choosing rest at the right times will help us see the bigger picture of what we’re doing and thrive in the moments we need to most.
2. Prioritize the better “no,” even when it’s uncomfortable
This is a hard one, but maybe the most important. Arguably the most important life lesson all students learn during their undergrad, is how to manage their time well. Most learn from mistakes which is natural and not always a bad thing. In order to manage your time well, you will need to grow and learn how to say “no” effectively because TIME is your most valuable limited resource. You can always earn more money but you cannot ever earn more time.
The idea of having to say “no” to people and things we may care about can be really stressful. But here’s the secret: you’re already saying no to something. It’s simply a matter of prioritizing the better “no”.
The better “no” looks like growing to understand over time, how can I help my future self? Will my future self thank me if I choose to spend all of my money to buy new clothes on payday? Or will it thrive if I carefully budget and only spend a small amount of my pay on buying only what I need?
When we always say “yes” to others and our work, we often end up saying “no” to our own health and well-being. We end up saying “no” to managing our time, resources, and mental health because we’ve prioritized them unfairly as the better “no”. Patterns of this over a long period of time can lead to mental health breakdowns, crises, and burnout.
The better “no” is a place that may feel uncomfortable, because it requires sacrifice. There’s give and take, but it may involve occasionally saying “no” to things we love or even want.
Choosing and valuing rest this year will help you grow and say “yes” towards long-term and sustainable mental, emotional, and physical health, and hopefully help give you peace and clarity in decisions.
3. God wants us to rest, and invites us into it
God invites us in the Bible three times to rest from our work, so that we may honour him and help ourselves:
Choosing to rest and entrust the fullness of our work to God brings him glory and also is an outward sign of our covenant with God that he is the one who makes us clean and new. (Exodus 31:12-17)
When we follow God’s way of living and obey him, we also find rest for our souls. (Jeremiah 6:16)
Jesus invites all who are weary to come to him. He bears our burdens and instead grants us his rest and peace. (Matthew 11:28-30)
4. Obedience leads to joy
When we follow God’s invitation to come to him and find our rest, we receive joy. Jesus told his closest friends before he died,
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:10-11)
There is a direct correlation between abiding or keeping close to Jesus, and following his commandments or instructions. What then follows is experiencing deep joy. Isn’t that amazing?
As a student I needed more joy, even in the midst of the studying, friends, part-time jobs, and my involvement with P2C. Joy was found when I surrendered my schedule to God and trusted him to stop my labours and rest. It was found when I prioritized the better “no”, and when I cared for my body, heart, and mind.
When it all comes down to it, God is inviting you to trust him in obedience this year. It’s a process of learning to recognize what God says to us about the choices and priorities in our hearts. It’s a process of remembering what the Gospel says. And finally, it’s a process of responding with obedience in trusting that God’s plan is better than ours. And sometimes that plan means slowing down and finding rest.