Everyone is experiencing loss right now. COVID-19 has changed a lot, most of which we’ll never get back, and our college students aren’t exempt from that. Four years that don’t end in walking across a graduation stage. Four years and not competing in your last collegiate sporting event. Four years of friendships that wrap up with FaceTime goodbyes.
In a world where people are losing loved ones, it can be easy right now to minimize the pain of our 20-somethings and what they’re grappling with losing in the next 30 days. But since it matters to them, it should matter to us, too, because how our college students process loss right now will shape and mature them.
Many college students haven’t faced trials like the ones they’re walking into right now. If there’s one thing they need to develop at this stage of their lives, it’s character. Trials build character. So, let’s embrace this season and ask God to use it to develop proven character in the students we love and lead.
1 Peter 1:6-7 (CSB), “You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
During this season of loss, your college students need help facing the facts, their feelings, and the hope of the gospel we have in Jesus.
FACE THE FACTS
We owe people honesty right now. It will help them face reality faster. We don’t owe answers to questions we don’t have, but we do owe people our honesty when they’re struggling to face reality. For example: This virus is actually serious, and we desperately need them to take social distancing seriously in love of their “at risk” neighbors. Or, here’s another example: It will be difficult to find a summer job or even their first full-time job out of college. Ignorance isn’t always bliss and faulty understandings of Romans 8:28 won’t work right now. You can help them have courage to face some new realities.
FACE YOUR FEELINGS
Trials have a way of getting our feet off their normal grounding. They force us to face our finite nature, our limited resources, our desire for control. Everyone’s vulnerable right now. But, it’s not always natural to give voice to uncomfortable human emotions that come with loss. Grief is unpredictable. It comes and goes. As leaders, it’s wise to give permission and create space for people to connect how they feel to what they’re facing.
The greatest hope we have to offer in the midst of trials is Jesus. In Jesus, we have a Comforter to send our students to who can actually and fully carry their burdens, handle their fears, and give them peace. We have a Savior who suffered ultimately on the cross 2,000 years ago, in order that our suffering here on early would only be temporary. Trials now lend us the opportunity to be refined, purified, and to become more like Jesus as we share in His sufferings.
So, as leaders, let’s embrace our own homemade cups of coffee across a computer screen instead of needing an in-person coffee shop environment because our college students need help right now. These are future parents, future government officials, and the future teachers of your grandchildren who need help digging deeper roots in Jesus, refined by the trials of COVID-19.
KENDRA GUSTAFSON is the Associate Director of Salt Company, the college ministry of Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, and part of the Salt Network. The vision of the Salt Network is to see a vibrant church planted in strategic university centers across North America.