The beginning of the school year — it’s one of our busiest times of the year.
So many students to meet, so many to reconnect with.
It’s a season in which life seems to move at an incredible pace — nearly impossible to keep up with — or so it would seem.
Yet I was recently reminded that while this might be true for many of us, it isn’t true for everyone.
I’ve got a friend I’ve been visiting in the hospital the past couple of weeks. In my visits with him I’ve been reminded that time moves slower in hospitals. Much slower.
There are times when I arrive and my friend is actually resting peacefully — so I’ll slip into a seat not far of his bed — and be still. And as you might imagine, being still in the month of August can be a bit of a challenge. My body may be at rest, but my mind races through the long list of things that need to be done before student leaders return next week — and new students, by that week’s end.
And without fail (so far) my friend eventually wakes and we begin to talk about how he has been since we’ve last visited. Some days are better than others. He’s not only fighting a rare form of cancer, but for the past few weeks he’s been in the hospital fighting off secondary infections due to his compromised immune system.
His sense of time has been totally thrown off. His mental framework for life struggles to extend beyond the four walls of his hospital room — as his time there nears the three-week mark. He feels stuck in many ways.
And strangely enough, his situation has served to remind me that although the first several weeks of the school year are crammed with endless activities and opportunities for students to connect with others, there are many who feel stuck — at times — in their own way.
They’ve grown up in a culture of instant — but friendships and feeling comfortable in a new place rarely happen that way.
For 18 years most of them have slowly grown comfortable around a certain set of people. Many of them have spent much of their life in the same geographical location — learning it — slowly. Life for them — up until now — has seen little in the way of major transition. And it’s the quiet moments in their dorm room that tend to remind them of this.
Many of the new students we will see out on campus will appear to be having fun and taking their transition in stride. But once behind closed doors, they will struggle in a big way.
It’s those unprogrammed hours that will be some of the toughest for our new students. The silence and the lack of being known will feel almost paralyzing.
They’ll long for home — for the levels of familiarity and kinds of connections they had established over numerous years — and they’ll want it immediately.
In many ways, these students will feel stuck — wondering why this major transition they’re in doesn’t just hurry up and move on to completion. Many will wish themselves through to their Sophomore year (or at least their spring term), by which time they figure they’ll have friends, familiarity, and confidence.
But at the beginning they’ll live with a quiet fear. An internal struggle that they’ll not want to let others catch wind of. A ‘stuckness.’
And I believe it to be our task — in the midst of all of the craziness that defines the first few weeks (or couple of months) of the new school year — to be both aware of and present to our new students.
Be aware — Even though most students will try give the impression of absolutely loving their new school, feeling at home (already) in their new room, and that they’re quickly making friends — the reality is that many (if not most) will be struggling on this inside — because the process takes time.
If we can go into our conversations and interactions with new students with an awareness of this — it will likely open the door to some significant conversations.
Be present — We’ve likely already mapped out our plans for the first several days/weeks of the new school year. We’ve defined certain roles and responsibilities within our team that are supposed to maximize our ability to reach out to — and connect with — new students in particular. We have a plan for being “present.” But I think we need to be ready (and willing) to offer more than this.
I think we need to be willing to step away from our information table to talk with those individuals who seem like they want to talk. If the opportunity presents itself, we need to be willing to move away from the noisy event and into a more quiet space where we can give this student our undivided attention. We need to trust that God will take care of the recruiting and connecting with the masses, while we allow ourselves to be used in the life of someone who is struggling with their transition.
To truly be present in the upcoming weeks, we’ll need to be prepared (and willing) to step away from activity, slow down, and engage in conversations — which will have great potential for leading into meaningful relationships.
We must remember that our reality (the flood of activity, the familiarity we have with campus life and returning students, the confidence we feel in our work and our context) is not everyone’s reality.
While we might not feel stuck — many will.
So the question is how will we be willing to break from our routine — and places of comfort and confidence — in order to put ourselves in position to better see and connect with students who feel stuck, and are struggling in these early days of transition?