[Editor’s Note: This school year, many students are learning online and at home–which is uniquely challenging. In this #schoolathome series, we are asking: What difference does Jesus make in our new normal? How can we live out this season well? To not just survive, but thrive? We hope you discover some helpful and practical tips along the way.]
I sighed and rested my face in my hands. My eyes unfocused from the screen in front of me and my back ached––reminding me that I had been sitting for far too long that day. I was totally over this Zoom call and longed for it to be done so that I could “get on” with my night.
Is it awkward that my Zoom call was a weekly church small group? Whether it was the format, the facilitation, the content, or the flow, I wasn’t feeling it.
The worst is when you feel “stuck” in something that you really don’t care about. You feel helpless.
A few months after the COVID-19 pandemic started, people everywhere started to talk about Zoom fatigue. It’s true that engaging online, whether one-on-one or on a massive 500-person call like a university class, is challenging. A two-dimensional face on a screen cannot replace the embodiment of a person in the flesh. We miss out on so much body language. And we actually need to work so much harder to understand others and be understood. Plus, with the increased time on screens, our bodies become drained and disengaged so much quicker.
And now, school is also online for the foreseeable future. For many, the uncertainty of how long these challenges will last is even triggering new mental health problems and deepening ongoing ones.
Like me, you’re most likely feeling “done” with this season of online connection.
While the Bible doesn’t address technology, Zoom, or boring content directly, it does have a lot to say about how to persevere through hard seasons and trials.
Say it with me: this season of online school can feel like a trial. It can be confusing when others have different tolerances for social distancing. It can feel stressful when we can’t spend time with our friends or family. It can be disappointing when labs, international exchanges, or practicums are cancelled. It’s unending and relentlessly tiring.
An important step of processing and moving forward is naming the challenges directly. But the reality of those challenges doesn’t have to dictate or control how our experience with online school and/or social connection can go. Does it mean it will be easy? Most likely not.
But together, let’s trust God as we persevere in challenge, press into rest, and hopefully finish well.
Persevere in challenge
To persevere simply means to keep going. One hopeful reality of living as part of God’s kingdom is that we don’t have to keep going on our own strength. Heck no. Because after eight months of a global pandemic, I have none left.
In Hebrews 4:15-16, the author describes Jesus in this way:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus has faced all the challenges and difficulties we have and can sympathize when we feel absolutely weak. Yet, because of him, we can draw near to him to receive mercy and find grace in our time of need. What an incredible invitation!
As we keep going, even in hard things, we get to work alongside the presence of Jesus as we press in to what we’ve committed to or started. Whether that’s a university class, a roommate relationship, or a part-time job. Even in challenge and stress and struggle––Jesus (our high priest) is with us and he has not abandoned us. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.
Even my small group experience which felt like a total struggle––there was good purpose in my being there. Yet, I knew that on my own I didn’t have the capacity to keep going. I full-on wanted to quit. As I sought to draw closer to God in prayer and stillness, I sensed that God saw me both in my circumstances and in my heart posture. He didn’t judge me for wanting to give up. I found that, each week, he strengthened my resolve to show up, to connect meaningfully with the group. I could only persevere alongside the presence of Jesus.
As a student, perseverance could look like:
- Engaging with God each day in prayer, worship, or reading the Bible.
- Planning out your study time.
- Saying no to extra social gatherings (even online).
- Not mentally checking out of classes.
- Giving yourself grace on busy weeks.
- Choosing to be kind to who you live with instead of responding with frustration or irritation.
We are in a hard season, but it doesn’t need to overtake us completely. With the help and presence of God, we can persevere in challenge.
Press into rest
We can’t be fully successful persevering in challenge if we’re not also pressing into rest. Perseverance and rest are intimately connected. If you consider that, in order to function well, the average person needs eight hours of sleep––it means that God has designed for us to sleep for ⅓ of our life. That’s a lot!
Rest can be elusive and reliably unpredictable. What seems restful one day, changes the next. (If you’re interested in reading more about rest, you can read about rest in God’s presence and how to choose rest this year on our Blog.)
Online school intensifies the challenges of pressing into rest. Our bedrooms, which should be a place of sleep and rest, are instead the spaces we spend doing hours of online video calls and studying. With limited options due to closed campuses, many students are spending almost 24 hours a day holed up in their bedrooms. How utterly unrestful.
What does rest look like when we spend almost our entire day on technology, trying to adapt to new forms of learning and engaging? Try doing activities that are opposite to your “normal.”
Pressing into rest can look like:
- Finding creative activities to work with your hands: baking, cooking, building, drawing/calligraphy, painting, photography, or cleaning (you know the fridge needs a good wipe!).
- Setting limits on bingeing on tv/movies. One or two Netflix shows can be refreshing on a Monday night, but not ten. Remember: sleep is important!
- Gathering with a local body of Christians in community. Find a church that is hosting in-person services, or plug into an online service or Bible study.
- Taking a Sabbath each week to pause from “normal” work and press into meaningful connection with God and others.
- Going for short walks outside each day. Fresh air often allows our minds to be at rest and process.
- Breaking from screens. I try to “put my phone to bed” each night, setting it on airplane mode and charging it outside my bedroom while I sleep.
The heart of finding restful activities is to recharge and refresh us––not just escape our hard reality. We need to be refilled emotionally, physically, and spiritually every day. When we persevere in a challenging season from a place of rest, and not emptiness, it becomes much easier to finish well.
When we persevere in a challenging season from a place of rest, and not emptiness, it becomes much easier to finish well.
Finally, how do we finish well? What does “ending well” look like? Or living and working with the end in mind? This semester and year will also come to an end, sooner than we might think. When you look back on your online semester, what do you want to see?
There’s a natural tension between living as present in the moment, while also viewing the bigger picture. An important aspect of seeing the bigger picture is reminding yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Reassessing can remind you of your calling, vision, passions, and purpose even in the midst of challenge and suffering.
Take some time to ask yourself:
- Why am I in school?
- What are my short and long term goals?
- What am I passionate about?
- What has God called me to do?
- What is God teaching me right now?
- Do I need to entrust or surrender anything to God?
We always have choices in life. The disruption of a global pandemic might be the time to make a change in direction or vocation. Make sure you understand the “why” or the bigger picture behind what you’re doing. It will help you focus on the end goal and work towards finishing well.
When Paul wrote from prison to the church in Phillipi, he modeled living in the present moment while also viewing the bigger picture. He passionately wrote:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:21-26)
As Paul wrote from prison, he was experiencing suffering and persecution. If you’re curious as to what imprisonment was like, you can read about Paul’s Two-Year Roman Imprisonment. Paul was torn between his present circumstances of suffering and ministry, and longing for his future reunion with Jesus in eternity. His “bigger picture” was to faithfully press into the ministry that God had called him to. Yet, his desire was to die and to be with Christ. He persevered in suffering so that he could remain on earth longer to finish well––to minister and encourage the churches he helped develop and mature.
In this semester and year of online school and connection, my prayer and hope for you is that, as you persevere alongside the presence of Jesus and press into rest, you would keep your eyes fixed on the bigger picture so that you can work towards finishing well.
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