*Originally Posted by Lance Rosen at PiousPosers.com
You've made it to year 1 of Post-Secondary education!
(or two or three or four or five or six...)
If you're at the beginning of that litany (year 1), you may be super excited. Faith wise, you may be super pumped to live your faith out in the real world and meet others that do the same. You may be chomping at the bit to convert the world and set it on fire for the Lord.
If you're at the latter end of that litany (year 4 or later), you may feel jaded, frustrated, or you may feel like every ounce of your faith has been squeezed out of you by that secular machine you pay thousands of dollars to every year... And no, I'm not talking about the local pub or the pizza joint down the road... well maybe.
Another option could be that you've gotten so far ingrained into a new 'student' lifestyle and friend group, that faith participation is a distant and foggy memory. I want you to know that it's never too late to return to the cross. No matter where you are in your journey, Christ is always at the door of your heart. #Truth
I recently sent out a single poll question to all of the post-secondary communities I could think of. Here's what it asked:
I tabulated the results, made a Wordle (that weird word picture above), and added some supplemental information of my own. Here are my (and your) Top 10 Tips to Beat the Post-Secondary Faith Blues:
*These tips are not in order of importance. They are in order of how many times they were said.
10. Christian Music
Who doesn't love a little worship now and then? Am I right? And it doesn't have to be the slow dusty hymns that haunt the early morning Mass memories of your childhood. There is some awesome Christian music out there that is very high quality. Whatever your genre of choice, there'll be some tunes to tickle your fancy. Check out Billboard's Christian Charts or KLOVE for some inspiration. I get it, we all have our favorite "secular" bands that we have to listen to on a regular basis. But why not mix some Christian tunes up in the shuffle... see what I did there?
Mmm-mmm-mmm. I love me some worship. For those of you who are more auditory, praise & worship might be more up your alley. Speaking from experience, nothing slams my senses and helps me enter into prayer better than a good worship set in Adoration, or anywhere for that matter. Plus, it's worship of our Lord... what's not to love? These can be some of the most intimate moments you can have with the Lord; worshipping him like our biblical predecessors did - except with a guitar instead of a lyre and harp. Not that there's anything wrong with a lyre or a harp... I just think they might be tough to lug around. Guitars can have cases. It's been a while since I've seen a busker lugging around a lyre in a gig bag. Just sayin'...
8. Spiritual Direction
I can only speak for myself, but spiritual direction has been an amazing tool in my faith tool belt. Spiritual directors can be priests, religious brothers & sisters, or even trained lay people. Most of the people I know have priests or religious sisters as spiritual directors.
So why spiritual direction? I like to think of it this way: In any job I have ever had, I have always had a go-to person. Whether you are job-shadowing, apprenticing, or training for replacement, there is always someone around who can help you and guide you. I have also had those types of jobs where it feels like they just throw you to the wolves, but there is usually always someone there to offer some guidance if you need it. This person may be a boss or even a co-worker, but there's usually someone.
So why can't you have this same type of go-to person in the spiritual life?
Why can't you have a trusted guide through your spiritual life? You can! Spiritual direction has really blessed my life. I have an 'old pro' supporting me and guiding me through the ups and downs of my spiritual journey. It's incredible. Now, don't get this confused with confession - there is a difference. There's also a difference between spiritual direction and counselling. For more information on spiritual direction, check out this video.
What do you do to keep your faith strong in College / University?
7. Eucharistic Adoration
Adoring Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament is a tremendous blessing. I could sit here and blab on and on about my love of Eucharistic adoration, but why not let the man tell you about its importance.
There's nothing like going to an event like a retreat, rally, mission, or conference to get the old batteries recharged. Getting together with people who share your faith, listening to dynamic speakers, celebrating the Sacraments, and spending some time away from the hustle of everyday life, can be an amazing refresher. As a student, my wallet winces when I think about going to an event. There's hope! Ask around. Your local parish, Knights of Columbus council, or Catholic Women's League may be able to help you out. After all, you're striving to grow in holiness. Can you think of a better investment?
Having someone holding you accountable is super important. You know that old question: "What kind of person are you when no one is around?" Having some accountability in your life can help form your conscience and give you extra support when you're feeling extra tempted. Having an accountability partner is so valuable. Find someone, ask them to be your accountability partner, and check in every week (or however often you need it). This shouldn't replace good spiritual direction or confession, but it gives you an ally in the battle. You will be able to help them with accountability as well.
Prayer is communication with God. How can you build a relationship with someone without ever talking to them? It's that simple. If we want to build a relationship with Christ, we have to spend some quality time with Him. How do you maintain your relationship with your best friend or significant other? Quality Time! The same quality time strategy can be used with God! The coolest piece of advice I have been given is to make a plan containing appointments with God. You make appointments with a doctor right? Well, you can make an appointment with the Lord too! (Thanks Fr. Clair!) The best part is, you won't be waiting two months for your appointment, there's no waiting room, and you won't have to sit on an awkward bench covered in butcher paper...
As Catholics, the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. We believe that at every Mass we receive Christ's body, blood, soul, and divinity. The Eucharist is the fuel that our souls need to continue. When times get tough and your faith feels battered and bruised by your non-believing peers / school, come to the water! Come to the source! Come to Jesus. Many colleges and universities have a chaplain who is appointed by the local bishop to care for the spiritual needs of the students. How cool is that? If the chaplain is a priest, there is a good chance he says mass on campus at least a couple times per week. He probably even makes himself available to hear your confession too. Check your local parish / diocese for details.
In regard to Reconciliation... oh man, where do I begin? The Church calls it a Sacrament of Healing. We all need healing. Sin distances us from God. Reconciliation repairs our relationship with God and brings us closer to him. When the priest says those words of absolution, our sins are wiped clean. Reconciliation allows us to return to a state of grace, allows us to be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit in our lives, reunites us with the Body of Christ, and allows us to participate more fully in the spiritual life.
Don't think confession is for you? Watch this:
1. Community, Community, Community
As much as I am a fan of the show, it's not what I'm talking about. Who you surround yourself with is who you become. You might not think it's true, but consider this. Why do you think there are all of those articles floating around online that show dog owners looking like their dogs, or spouses who oddly look a lot like one another? Just sayin'... Seriously though, chances are you and your strong faith doesn't have what it takes to convert an entire group.
There is strength in numbers.
This statement is true on both sides of the coin. There is strength in numbers. If you are the only one with some sort of faith life among a large group of non-believers, it won't end well. There is also strength in numbers if you decide to become part of a larger community of other like-minded young adults who share your faith. This scenario has a better ending. Take my word for it.
In many cases, there are Catholic / Christian clubs on campus. As I said earlier, there's probably a chaplain kicking around too. Get involved! There are so many Catholic campus ministries and programs out there. There is always something going on. I'm sure that on any given month, you would find things like Theology on Tap, scripture studies, social nights, and other great things happening in your neck of the woods to help you stay strong. There are even Catholic men's and women's houses popping up more and more if you want to live in community. The world is your oyster... unless you're allergic... then that's just unfortunate. But the choice is yours!
A big thank you to everyone who participated in the survey. I am completely aware that there are way more strategies and resources than the 10 I mentioned. These ten were the ones that were stated the most in the survey, which means that real people just like you and I are using them. Tried, Tested, and True.
- Lance Rosen
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
-1 Corinthians 13: 1
Without love where you be now?
-‘Long Train Running’, the Doobie Brothers
For my first piece here at The Silversmith Collective I was trying really hard to think of something witty, eloquent, humorous, maybe even mind blowing, to write about. Then I remembered I’m me and realized that probably wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, as I was coming to this realization, I remembered this is actually the second time this year this has happened to me, and so I can shamelessly borrow from what I wrote before.
For context, I’m a teacher and my school has a ‘Teacher Advisory Program’, aka TAP, which is a fancy way of saying a homeroom, but with a little more purpose. With TAP we have the same group of kids in our homeroom from grade 7 all the way through to grade 12. The idea is that we actively build community with this group of kids, advocate for them throughout their school journey, and then participate in their grad ceremony. By default this meant it was my job to give the toast to the grads this year. Truthfully, I was kind of terrified. I hate platitudes with a passion and I’m not a huge fan of inspirational quotes either. What pithy, charming, inspiring advice could I give these young people after they’d had to sit through classes of me trying my best to drill advanced mathematics and physics into their brains? How could I top ideas like the one that we are literally made of the remnants of dead stars, or that we are the consciousness of the material universe?
In my search for something good to say I was blessed with some guidance during our weekly professional development. I’m blessed enough to work in a school district whose faith theme for the next three years is evangelization, and the week before grad the conversation turned to what the real purpose of our existence was. Namely eternal life.
We were reminded that there are real and important stakes at hand when it comes to sharing God’s love with our students, stakes beyond any on earth. I’m not sure if it was a revelation or a reminder, but I received some serious clarity in that session that my vocation as a teacher was about a lot more than simply teaching the wonders of Math and Science, and kind of being a decent guy to my students. This providential moment lead me to the conclusion that there was no point in giving career advice, reading Dr. Seuss, or trying to be wise in my toast to the grads. Instead, I simply and bluntly told them two truths. The first was that I, and all of my colleagues, loved them. Beyond the grades, beyond the classes, beyond the bands and teams and clubs, we loved them. The second was that if they did everything in their life out of love, with their sights set on eternal life, it didn’t even matter if they reached their dreams or goals because those would pale in comparison to the life they’d live and the eternal reward of living a life of the holy sort of Love (don’t worry, I still told them to strive for their dreams and goals, and that God gave them their passions for a reason).
To put it in the form of advice I’ve received as a teacher, I’m going to paraphrase two of my own leaders and role models in education. First from a presenter in my new teacher orientation. His advice wasn’t practical to the day to day of teaching, but simply the question: “How are you going to show your students you love them each and every day?” Imagine if every educator, Catholic or not, started the day with that reminder. Imagine how much more we’d see of our students’ whole selves. Imagine how much more we’d understand when a student is acting out or misbehaving because they themselves are coming from a place of pain. Imagine how much better we’d coach. Imagine how much more effective the one on one help, the critical feedback, and the sincere praise would be if we constantly held the love for our students at the front of our minds and the top of our hearts. The second bit of wisdom comes from my superintendent, and is this: The love a great teacher has that drives them in their work, is Agape. The love revealed in Jesus, which gives with no expectation of reward or reciprocation. Again, imagine if we let go of our need to be liked or validated by our students, and could simply love them and serve them in whatever way they need most.
So, to echo the challenge laid before me as a new teacher: How are you going to be the channel of God’s love to your students, in whatever context you educate, each and every day?
Father’s Day… one of those last minute, almost forgotten about holidays for teachers. Honestly, what teacher is able to think of some cutesy, genuinely thoughtful gift for their students’ fathers while they are busy preparing report cards, field trips, and year-end slideshows? Well, I thought I had a gift that at least adequately fit those descriptors. We were going to make cookies and decorate cookie jars just for dad! It was going to be fun and my students were going to love it!
The first thing I hear as I pull out the jars… “Those jars are ugly!”… “Do we seriously have to paint these jars? Can’t we just draw with Sharpies?”… “Those jars are so small! How are we even going to fit cookies in there??”
Yep… there go my dreams of a positive and fun assignment. Fly away little dreams, fly away!
This past year has been a rather trying one in terms of keeping things positive. Not too far into the year I had to start up a “positivity jar” where students would earn marbles for every (genuinely) positive comment I heard. Let’s just say that the jar stopped, as it was the slowest earning jar we had ever seen. After every negative comment I heard, I would attempt to model an opposing positive comment or try to get the student to come up with their own positive comment (which would almost always end in an eye roll).
Now, I’m trying not to complain here, and I’m really trying to stay positive, but where have all the positive children gone?? I have to ask myself how these 10 year old's have managed to become so cynical and pessimistic. The only answer I have come up with is, well, it’s us adults. On to story number two… (which happened later that day).
On my long drive home I came up to a rather busy intersection during one of Lethbridge’s few rush hours, and traffic was stalled a bit. As it slowly got moving, I was on my way to the next set of lights, when they turn yellow. I had enough time to stop and wasn’t exactly up for running a red light, so I stopped. I look behind me in my rear-view mirror and see this lovely elderly gentlemen cussing me out and waving his hands frantically at me just begging me to keep going. This goes on for another 20 seconds. I merely smile back at him.
Now, this gentleman looked like he was on his own, but how many times has something like this happened when there were small children around? How many times has a child witnessed mom, dad, aunt, or uncle, come home and do nothing but complain about their day? How often do children get to witness an adult criticizing the waitress or meal at a restaurant? I don’t know about you guys, but I think it’s time as adults we need to step up and actually think about what we say around those sponge-like minds around us. We need to start thinking about how we can transform the negative circumstances into positive ones. How can we show that we are grateful for those opportunities that challenge us to greater growth? Isn't it in the bible that it says "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We need to teach our children to give thanks in all circumstances instead of complaining and whining. God doesn't promise us an easy, trouble-free life, He promises a "future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11), and to care for us through our anxieties (see 1 Peter 5:7).
Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people who go around whistling a happy tune with a 100-watt grin on all day… I can definitely get into a complaint mode. I need to vent. We all need to vent. Otherwise we’d all explode! But maybe, just maybe, we need to keep those times for when we can share it with another adult who can handle it, instead of sharing it around those who are still forming their personalities?
Just a thought.