I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer.
You are yourself the answer.
Before your face questions die away.
~C.S. Lewis from Till We Have Faces
Today I help greet new and returning 15,000 college students who begin classes this week at my university. Each one seeks answers to their many difficult questions about life and how to live in this troubled time.
Every day I will see college students who are so consumed by anxiety about the questions in their lives they become immobilized in their ability to move forward through inevitable obstacles and difficulties. They become so stuck in overwhelming feelings they can’t sleep or eat or think clearly, distracted by their symptoms. They self-medicate, self-injure and self-hate. Being unable to nurture themselves or others, they wither like a young tree without roots deep enough to reach the vast reservoir of answers that lies untapped beneath them. In epidemic numbers, some decide to die, even before life really has fully begun for them.
I grieve for them in their distress. My role is to help find healing solutions, whether it is counseling therapy, a break from school, or a medicine that may give some form of relief. My heart knows the ultimate answer is not as simple as the right prescription.
Before the face of God, the questions fall away.
We who are anxious are not trusting a Creator who does not suffer from attention deficit disorder and who is not distracted from His care for us even when we turn away in worry and sorrow. We magnify our difficult circumstances by staying so tightly into ourselves, unable to look beyond our own eyelashes. Instead we are to reach higher and deeper, through prayer, through service to others, through acknowledging there is power greater than ourselves who can answer all our unaskable questions.
So we are called to pray for ourselves and for others, disabling our anxiety and fear and transforming it to gratitude and grace.
No longer withering, no longer deaf to the answers we’ve been given, we just might bloom.
You can hide nothing from God.
The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him.
He wants to see you as you are,
He wants to be gracious to you.
You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers,
as if you were without sin;
you can dare to be a sinner.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Life Together
One of my Monday morning jobs in our college health clinic is to meet with any student who got so intoxicated they had to spend part of the weekend in the emergency room. Alcohol poisonings are distressingly common on all college campuses, and ours is no exception. What I do during our morning-after visit is review the records with the student so they have some idea what took place before they woke up hours later on a gurney in a noisy smelly emergency room– alcohol is an effective amnesia-producing anesthetic when it doesn’t manage to outright kill its consumer. It is a humbling experience to read about what one said and did while one was under the influence of intoxicants and yet have no memory of any of it. That is why my time is well spent with the recovering and remorseful. Not only does their stomach lining still burn from all the vomiting, but their head hurts from acknowledging the risks they took in the name of having a good time. It is rare that I ever need to meet again with the same student about similar behavior.
This, in reality, is a very effective kind of hurting, one that is crucial to future decision-making: dangerous behavior is far less appealing when one still carries the scars. Priorities change for the better.
Today I won’t be able to work in several hundred now-sober students into this morning’s clinic schedule after the unfortunate and widely publicized events that happened just a couple blocks off our college campus a little over 24 hours ago. I suspect most of the students involved remember more than they wish to about their participation in a big-block-party-gone-terribly-wrong. They were part of an aggressive mob mentality threatening law enforcement personnel trying to disperse an increasingly rowdy and obnoxious crowd. Some are finding themselves in video and Instagram/Facebook documentation of their profane words and gestures, throwing potentially lethal objects, vandalizing private and city property as well as causing thousands of dollars of city resources to confront out of control drunk rioters. These students can try to lay low but there is no place to hide from their inner knowledge of what they have done, the part they played and the irreparable damage they caused to individuals, relationships, property and as well as the reputations of the city and the university. There is no comforting alcohol amnesia to hide within this time.
The only possible healing from an event like this is to come clean about what one has done, admit the mistakes made and work to make it right no matter the cost — to dare to acknowledge the sins committed and accept the consequences of one’s actions.
Hiding is cheap — guilt and shame remain behind the mask.
Grace and forgiveness is costly but there is no longer need to hide and be eaten away by a continually hurting soul.
My prescription for this day and in the days to come: changed priorities ahead. College is about obtaining a valuable and precious education, not about finding the biggest and best party of intoxicants.
Take with food and a large dose of humility.