More Prayers

The following prayer related to COVID-19 is taken from the Christian Reformed Church’s Office of Social Justice

“In this time of unprecedented, global crisis, we all struggle to hold the weight of it. Worries abound and drastic changes to how we work, parent, shop, gather, worship – indeed how we live – are compounding quickly. We, as Jesus followers, are being called to change our behavior out of love and care for our neighbor. There are many directions to pray in so here are a few we could hold before us today.  

Prayers for Leaders and Decision Makers

Abba, the leaders we have in government, healthcare, business, education have exceedingly difficult decisions in front of them. Open their ears and eyes to recognize wisdom. Guide decisions to reflect their positions of “servants of the good.” (Rom. 13:4).  

Help our leaders see the breadth of our connectedness – the ecology of the whole creation.  Help them hold the truth of our humanity before their decisions.  

Guide them with the next right steps in this crisis.  

Grant them sleep and health so they can endure the distance they have to go as our leaders during this time.  

Prayers for the Vulnerable

God, protect the vulnerable. Some members of our society are more adversely affected than others and we hold them up to your care at this time. We hold the immuno-compromised, the already sick, care home residents, the health care workers and their families up to you. We hold the homeless population and those who depend on food banks up to you in this time of resource scarcity. We hold communities with less resources, doctors, clinics and money in mind. We hold the elderly, the already isolated, the already lonely up for your presence and care. Protect bodies and minds from that which separates us from our love and your love. Help those who can care for the most vulnerable among us do so well. By keeping distance, by staying home, by delivering meals, by making sure our neighbors have ways to stay in touch with us.  

And God, help us to remember that injustice around the world still abounds, affecting the most vulnerable most adversely.  Help us to see truly in this time. 

Help us to know that we are in your hands, and that we are also in each other’s hands. (Lynn Ungar)

Prayers for Uncertainty

God, the myth of certainty is laid bare at our feet.  Will you now raise up trust and faith in your unwavering presence?  

The myth of certainty has been taken down and we hold the weight of not knowing what the future holds.    

Help us to hold our own fears, responsibilities, unknowns with grace.  

Give us enough for today, help us to take the next right steps for tomorrow.  

Be with those whose livelihoods are at risk -provide for them.  

Be with those who are unable to see loved ones – care for them.  

Be with those who are not sure how to balance all the new ways of daily living, all the shifts to important plans.   

Be with us when we inevitably will feel the fear, angst and weight of this uncertainty—point us to your love in those moments.

Help us not trade justice for certainty, making an idol out of plans that work for us but not for everyone.

Spark in us possibilities and bigger imaginations in a time where what we thought was certain is no more.  

Prayers for the Body of Christ

Spirit of the Living God, you have called us to be the embodied community of the living Christ. Help us all take steps away from fear and hostility, bravado and self-righteousness, towards agape love.  Towards a love that demonstrates your care to all who encounter us.  

Help us to be good neighbors, locally and systematically, within our communities.  

Draw us together in new bodies of worship, word and sacrament.  

Open our eyes and ears to your Spirit’s movement during this time.  

Surprise us and lead us to become communities that bring life to our cities, leaven in the bread.  

Help us move through our own fears, naming them, and offering them to you.

Increase our trust in you and increase our love for our neighbors.  

Even in a time of social distancing, may the resurrected Body of Christ be truly embodied, alive, pulsing with grace in our neighborhoods and keep doing your work in us in unexpected, subversive and life giving ways.   

Give us new songs from this time, that we may sing of how you do not leave us or forsake us.”

Amen.

Prayer for MSU, universities, and the world

MSU stopped in-person classes yesterday, has been encouraging students to leave campus and return to their permanent residence, and has been cancelling gatherings of large groups of people. Most of us are a bit overwhelmed and still processing the concrete implications of this for our lives, while also being uncertain of what will happen in the next few weeks.

In thankfulness for and solidarity with the prayers that people are already offering throughout the world and in response to everything related to the coronavirus, I lift up this prayer:

Almighty God, we pray

  • ​For those who are sick. That they might have knowledge of their illness, courage in isolation, healing, and the means to limit the spread of the disease.
  • that you might sovereignly move in mercy to spare lives. May there be effective measures to limit the virus’s spread, the quick development of a vaccine, and may You guard against mutations.
  • For wisdom for leaders on our campus and throughout the country and world. May all those who are responsible for cancelling events and/or closing schools, at any level, have the courage and strength and help in making hard decisions requiring much wisdom.
  • For Christians to walk in tangible faith and love, and be ready to share the good news of hope. For wisdom for faith communities as they know how best to respond and take care of people’s physical and emotional well-being.
  • For a spiritual hunger, especially among those who do not know Jesus, during this time of social distance (and Your hand in guiding people and resources to them).
  • For the vulnerable elderly, due to both the danger of the virus itself and the isolation they must endure.
  • For all those in health care and research of disease, that they might have strength and wisdom. May they stay healthy.
  • For those whose livelihoods are significantly affected, especially those in hospitality, the travel industry, and retail, where they bear some of the brunt of people’s anxiety.
  • For professors (and staff and students) who are facing the daunting challenge of switching their classes online.
  • For students whose lives and plans have been disrupted, especially ​those who will face difficulties in finishing their programs (e.g., because of cancelled recitals/shows) and ​seniors whose in-person college experience has suddenly and unexpectedly ended. We pray especially for students with complicated living and food situations or for whom it is unsafe to ‘go home.’
  • For those who are no longer able to travel to check out grad programs or interview for a job; and the departments/programs as they find creative solutions to people not being able to travel;
  • For those who have cancelled their trips, whether conferences or holidays. ​
  • For those who are currently in a country that is not their home and unsure of where they ought to be.​
  • For those facing social isolation: we pray especially that families might grow through more time together and that there might be creative ways of helping those living alone deal with loneliness.
  • For those facing discrimination as people take out their anxiety about possibly becoming sick.
  • For those with unexpected time on their hands (especially those who were expecting to watch sports or travel), that they might use the time to be creative and to rest.
  • For children and parents, and all living in close quarters, that we might have extra grace for each other, and appreciate and love each other.

With thanks to Chris Ahlin (who helps lead the MSU faculty and staff prayer gathering), for many of the words above.

Challenges of Graduate Students

This fall the Campus Edge board has been working to understand how we might better respond to the challenges that graduate and professional students experience. Campus Edge students identified the following as the most significant challenges:

  • Stress and/or lack of time;
  • Work/life balance (and “grad student guilt”);
  • Lack of clarity with regard to expectations and progress;
  • Mental health issues;
  • Difficult (or unhealthy) relationship with adviser and/or department/program;
  • Financial (and other socioeconomic) challenges;
  • Spiritual questions/challenges;
  • Loneliness and lack of support;
  • Difficulty in finding a job (after graduating).

A recent article in Inside Higher Education notes that, according to a recent survey of graduate students, “mental health, bullyiing, and career uncertainty” are the top challenges facing graduate students today.

The gift of Sabbath

For most folks, graduate school is a time of being busy: there is always something to do or else guilt in not doing it. Practicing Sabbath can be a challenge during this time, especially as it often takes some creativity to make happen.

Yet, Sabbath is a gift, especially of perspective. It challenges our understanding of time, seeing “time not as an enemy to subdue, but as a friend to savor.” (Mary Ann McKibben Dana, Sabbath in the Suburbs). Furthermore, it challenges how we think about ourselves. We are not as important or as invincible as we sometimes think: the world will continue quite fine without our efforts. As much as God can use us to do good, God is certainly able to do good without us. It also challenges whatever guilt we might ahve picked up in terms of how undeserving we might be of rest:

“Even if you don’t observe Sabbath, a shift in perception is helpful. It doesn’t ever all get done. We need to train our vision. We see failure when we should see alternatives. Better to focus on the good and important things we did do instead of berating ourselves for falling short of an ideal.” McKibben Dana, Sabbath in the Suburbs, 105.

On top of the obvious challenge of carving out time for Sabbath, it doesn’t help that one of the joys of Sabbath – delighting in one’s friends and family – is made more difficult in that most people move to a new place for grad school. The friends made in the new place tend to be busy working.

Yet, even practicing Sabbath in small doses can be an encouragement. Perhaps one of the following suggestions is something that you could work into your schedule:

  • taking one morning, afternoon, or evening to journal or read an encouraging (or challenging) non-school book;
  • going out into nature somewhere – or explore some other new place;
  • taking a break from technology for a few hours;
  • commuting in silence and/or using the commute time to sing in the car, pray and meditate, or listen to a podcast that rejuvenates you;
  • “While waiting at red lights, sitting with both hands open, as a way of practicing Psalm 46’s invitational command to “Be still and know that I am God.” See other tips for short Sabbath moments here.

Last of all, I encourage you to give yourself the grace and courage to keep trying. Taking Sabbath is a habit one needs to form and, like most habits, it takes time (and often some failure) to figure out how to grow into.

Some helpful quotes and books to keep pondering Sabbath:

  • “What happens when we stop working and controlling nature? When we don’t operate machines or pick flowers? . . . When we cease interfering in the world we are acknowledging that it is God’s world.” Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath, 6-7.
  • “Sabbath puts the focus on God and God’s gracious invitation to rest from one’s work.” Mary Ann McKibben Dana, Sabbath in the Suburbs, 22.
  • A quote from Sabbath in the Suburbs (89): “It’s not so much how busy you are, but why you are busy. The bee is praised. The mosquito is swatted.” Mary O’Connor.
  • A helpful book to read: Dorothy C. Bass, Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time (2001)

Loneliness, Meaning, and Hope

The Los Angeles times recently published an article by Varun Soni, who is dean of religious life at USC, highlights some of the changes that he’s seen among students during the eleven years he’s been in that role. In the beginning, the conversations he had with students centered on “quests for meaning and purpose. [Students] were striving to translate values into action, cultivate joy and gratitude, live extraordinary lives.”

However, more recently the conversation has shifted more often from “how should I live?” to “why should I live?” As Soni, notes that students today are more likely to “grapple with hopelessness and meaninglessness. Every year, it seems, I encounter more stress, anxiety, and depression, and more students in crisis on campus.” He goes on to present the research that has also noticed this shift on campus.

Soni notes that students are often overwhelmed and lonely, and they find it difficult to know how to make friends, a trend that Jean M. Twenge, who has done a significant amount of research on the generation entering college, has also noticed.

Soni further notes that, while we sometimes consider this generation to be coddled,

the reality is they face unprecedented challenges and circumstances. They are entering a world in which many of the career paths of their parents’ generation no longer exist or have changed drastically. They face escalating tuition costs with little sense of whether their future opportunities justify the outlay. They have participated in active shooter trainings and campus lockdown drills for most of their lives.”

In this challenging context, Campus Edge and other religious communities strive to provide community and support for people who are struggling, as well as speaking hope into people’s lives. Please pray that we might do that well, as well as praying for all those who are struggling.

Help for when faith shifts

At Campus Edge we strive to be a welcoming place for those who are struggling with faith, especially those who aren’t sure if they’re able to continue to believe what they used to believe about God, church, and faith. If you’re connected to MSU and struggling with faith, we’d be honored to have you connect to us, either to meet others who’ve undergone the challenging journey connecting to faith shifting or simply to be able to share your own journey and struggles with someone who is committed to listening and encouraging you.

We’d also like to share resources with you in the midst of the struggles. Alongside of the series we did on faith shifting a number of years ago, we post resources periodically on this blog. The Well recently posted an article with suggestions for things you can do when your faith no longer feels familiar. The author, Jen Zamzow, noted that while we might expect our faith to shift at certain transitions in our lives, sometimes it happens unexpectedly, and “change is harder when it sneaks up on us.”

In those times, she gives the following suggestions of things to keep in mind “when we need our faith but it no longer feels familiar to us:”

  1. Be patient with yourself. Zamzow especially warns that “when we push too quickly for resolution without taking time to figure out whether this is even how we should resolve things, we end with simplistic answers that don’t even address the questions that we desperately need to ask.” After all, “faith is not about having everything figured out; it’s about doing the hard work of asking the difficult questions. Faith is not pretending to have all the right answers; it’s about trusting that the answers are there when we don’t see them.”
  2. See the opportunity. Zamzow notes that “it’s when we ask why we should pursue a life of faith that we are most likely to find a faith that connects with our deepest selves, a faith that is real and meaningful.”
  3. Be gentle with yourself. Zamzow notes that “We cannot force ourselves to believe something through sheer will; that’s not how belief works. And guilting or shaming ourselves or others into holding onto particular beliefs about God does little more than further our depression and despair. It is not how we foster deep, authentic faith; it’s how we end up overwhelmed, anxious, or angry at God.”

Mental Health and Graduate School

As we’ve noted before on this blog, “graduate students are at a greater risk for mental health issues than the general population.” A recent study by Harvard quoted in The Atlantic reiterates this, noting that “the study’s results, which also include survey responses from nearly 200 faculty members, indicate that many Ph.D. students’ mental-health troubles are exacerbated, if not caused, by their graduate-education experiences.”

The article notes the high pressure in graduate school, but also highlights how graduate school can feel meaningless:

“Compounding the pressures is the sense, at least according to the economics Ph.D. candidates surveyed by the Harvard researchers, that their work isn’t useful or beneficial to society. Only a quarter of the study’s respondents reported feeling as if their work was useful always or most of the time, compared with 63 percent of the entire working-age population. Only a fifth of the respondents thought that they had opportunities to make a positive impact on their community.”

Please continue to pray for those struggling with the challenges of graduate school: not just the difficult workload, but also the difficulty in seeing how their efforts are meaningful.

Learning to enjoy Sabbath/ Sunday

To my delight, it was fairly unanimous during our Bible Study that Sabbath (e.g., Sunday rest) is considered to be a blessing. At the same time, it was also obvious that it was complicated. Some in the group had grown up with very strict guidelines of what should and should not happen on Sunday. Others had had very little structure in their day, making the day be not all that significant. Neither of these are what we really want for our lives now, but it’s not so easy to figure out how to do Sunday/ Sabbath well in the midst of busy, full lives in a way that fits who we are and remains intentionally turned towards God.

Suprisingly enough, seeing Sabbath as being more of a gift full of freedom makes it easier, I believe, to turn towards God. This is not to say to say that things like attending church or Bible reading aren’t important – they are! – but Sabbath ought not to be limited to God things or good Christian activities. It’s not supposed to be another day we strive to be good or please God. Sabbath is about slowing down and delighting in God’s world around us, both the creation and the people in our lives. Sometimes a bit of planning helps, at least to make sure that others are also available and also to push those of us who are lazy to actively participate in enjoying. It’s also good to realize that Sabbath isn’t just about one day, but about an attitude that will hopefully (after practicing it more intentionally on Sunday) carry on throughout the week, so that we slow down, realize that we are not in control, turn actively towards God, and delight in the good gifts He has given us.

It is also helpful to see Sabbath as a practice and discipline. Not because it’s one more thing we have to be good at as Christians, but to see that it takes practice to get better at it. Furthermore, just like some people take to jogging long distances more easily than others, some people take to the discipline of Sabbath more easily than others. Those of us who are naturally more worried or tend towards feelings of guilt often have difficulties with Sabbath, and perhaps it is easiest to take it at small doses at a time or find a ‘running buddy’ to do it. For those of us who are overachievers and define ourselves a bit too much on the basis of what we do, it can help to see Sabbath as being a way to refresh and renew, recognizing that rest actually makes us better productive. My hope, though, is that Sabbath becomes a gift to all of us – a day we look forward to for spending time turning towards God, without expectations or guilt or pressure.