It has been difficult of late to listen to so many statistics regarding mental health on campus. No one knows these realities as much as students themselves who struggle to deal with the stresses of a high-powered university while listening to their classmates who are similarly struggling or worse. The university has done much to try to address these issues with great outreach by CAPS and Duke Reach. But aren’t we missing an essential question? Why? Why are so many students floundering when it comes to emotional well-being?
Many might suggest that it is the pressure of studies at a top ten university. Others might lament that Duke, like many peer institutions, has forgone studying for the sake of learning in order to become a pre-professional stepping-stone – piling on the stresses of future job placement. Into this steaming soup we add the over-stimulation of ubiquitous media (like the laptop upon which I write this column) that hold our senses captive to stimuli, never allowing for simple peace. To this, we can add the relational struggles that are part and parcel of this stage of life and the angst of a questionable relational future for young adults for whom the clock is ticking. And on and on. I’m anxious writing this! I can only imagine what it must be like for those who live it each day here in Durham and on campuses around the world.
Now, let’s try to live this reality without a supernatural foundation upon which we can trust. Let’s strip our university of any public acknowledgement of anything that isn’t empirically evident. Let’s proclaim ourselves as the epicenter of all existence, and mock all those who think otherwise as intellectually weak and anachronistic. No wonder the level of anxiety on campus is elevated.
The character played by Jack Nicholson asks in the movie titled after his question: “What if this is As Good As It Gets?” Stripped of any evidence that there is some saving grace that is unflawed, undeserved, and freely given, that is the picture that a university so constructed can only offer. Devoid of hope in something greater than ourselves, no wonder we are anxious in record numbers if this is as good as it gets.
It is into this reality that Christ sends us as people of faith. We are called to witness to something greater on this campus. We are the hope of the living body of Christ that has the power to bring peace to an anxious world. Yet, this message will only impact to the extent to which those of us who bear it are believable. When we pray “thy kingdom come”, it is this very kingdom of peace that Christ has commissioned us to make real.
I challenge our students when confronting the stresses of campus life not to ask “What can I do about this?” Rather, ask, “Who can deliver me, walk with me, and love me through all of this?” To that question there has only ever been and ever will be one answer. Jesus! All of the other techniques are helpful, but ultimately not completely satisfying. May each of us come to realize that Truth in our studies here, and give a more healthy witness to “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7).
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