The Shifting Life-Lens of Students

The college years are some of the most formative in life.

During this critical time, students are going through a tremendous amount of transition… and we have been called to walk alongside them during their years on campus.

One of the most significant changes — I think — comes in how students learn to view, understand and live in to the world around them.

Most people refer to this as a worldview, but that word (or idea) has been overused and misused, so I have taken to using the term  life-lens.

Most students have been exposed to one way of viewing, understanding and living in the world — for approximately 18 years of life — but now they are on a campus where they are likely interacting with people who view, understand and live in to the same world in very different ways than they do.

This can tend to be confusing and frustrating for students (and their parents)… but also liberating in a number of ways.

We are uniquely positioned to speak into the lives of students in some formative ways…

We will be given the chance to answer questions and serve as a sounding board for what students are thinking about regarding a wide variety of things — including their faith.

And our temptation might be to be more prescriptive than descriptive.

Wanting our students to “get it right” the first time, we might attempt to tell them how to view, understand and live into this world… but I think that would be unhelpful.

A significant part of our work — as I see it — is helping students to take responsibility for, and ownership of, their life.

Their life.

Not our life.

Not the life we think they should want.

Their life.

Which means they need to learn how to make important decisions about their life… and then live with their decisions.

We need to give them room to decide differently than we would.

We need to give them room to explore, succeed and even fail.

They don’t have to see, understand and live in to the world just like we do. In fact, I think that would be an injustice to how God has uniquely created them if they did.

So what does that mean for us?

How do we fit in to the lives of students if it’s not to “show them the way?”

Well, I think we can still attempt to show them “the way.”

I think we can, and should, help them to make sense of the experiences, events and struggles happening all around them.

But I think the key is that we must learn to ask the kinds of questions that will help our students think — for themselves — in ways that they may not have yet learned.

We can describe for them what we see, or reflect back to them what they say they see, and then we ask questions.

Good questions.

Questions that require them to think.

Questions that are formative.

Questions that don’t just shape they way they think or understand, but how they will live.

Where we will get into trouble is when we begin to prescribe for them how they should see things, how they should understand it all and how they should live.

This isn’t helpful… in fact, it can even be harmful.

And so this is our task (at least one of them)…

To help students learn to see the world in different ways, learn to process and understand it, and then to make intentional choices about how they will live out the one life that God has given them.

So my questions for you today are:

  • How do you do this?
  • Do you struggle to be more descriptive than prescriptive in your conversations with students?
  • Are you willing to give students space to do life differently than you, and even fail — if it results in them learning to take responsibility for, and ownership of, the shaping of their life?

There’s a lot at stake here — I know — which means that the way(s) we assist students in this regard are decisions we cannot take lightly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please take a moment to share in the comment section below.