Back in Touch

Click. Click. Finally it’s turned in, and what a relief to have my assignment accomplished. As I sit at my desk, I relish the thought of a few minutes of reprieve, and begin to imagine some time to sit down and finally think about my life and what’s happening—but no, not for now; the next quiz is due in a few hours.

This seems to be the classic life of a college student. Life is full of possibilities: more classes to take, more work hours to contract, more extracurricular activities and opportunities to get involved in, more student positions to fill. It seems like such a wonderful thought until that moment of realization that class content is flying in so fast that we hardly have a chance to take it all in during our remaining short study periods. And then (if we’re honest) in the rush we truly don’t take it all in—we catch all that’s necessary to understand for the next quiz or test, and then move on quickly because there’s more to take in. And so we go, rushing from one intellectual bite to the next, cramming in as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

In our culture there is this ideal picture of living to get as much done as possible, as quickly as possible. Sometimes, however, it occurs to us that human life has not always been this way. Over the past few centuries, tasks that used to take a long time have metamorphosed to require much briefer efforts, and widely, our Western culture has taken a turn from the slow to the fast. Travel is much faster, communication is faster, and production is faster. With the introduction of the internet, computers, and smartphones, we now have information at our fingertips, at the very instant of whatever time we desire it. Not only are our everyday lives affected by this change—the desire to complete things fast has permeated into education, too. Many young people in the West choose to complete their college education as fast as possible, taking heavy credit loads or accelerated programs to limit the time they have to spend in school so they can move on with the world and their own lives as soon as possible.

I was losing touch with the real world, losing a sense of what to do in real life practical experiences because my mind was occupied in theoretical matters.

In my own experience, I found this “cramming” culture to be a standard part of my college life. Working significant hours every week while participating in afternoon classes or work periods and difficult morning classes, I had hardly a few hours to study outside of class and work, much less to think and reflect deeply on both what I studied both in school and even on the word of God. As time went on, I began losing my sense of health and identity while still trying to convince myself that I should be able to do it all—school was my greatest joy and dream. But at the same time, being so wrapped up in the rush of activities meant that I felt I was losing touch with the real world, losing a sense of what to do in real life practical experiences because my mind was so occupied in theoretical matters.

After one particular semester, I decided something needed to change. I wasn’t sure what to do but determined to begin with reducing my work hours, even though it would make it more difficult to meet school bills. I began scheduling time into my schedule to not do school or work, but to ponder about where and what God wanted me to be, and pray about His leading. I said “no” to several student positions. I began to allow myself to take relaxed time to spend in social settings. I began to allow myself to sleep longer, and choose not to work on assignments when I was tired and couldn’t focus. Providentially, the classes in my schedule the next semester happened to be of a lighter intensity, which significantly helped me to redeem what I had lost.

The results of these changes were far superior to what I had anticipated. My mind became clear and able to process and grasp deeper thoughts; my health recovered; I felt at peace as I walked through my responsibilities, academic and other; I didn’t feel a constant pressure or anxiety about having to finish the next thing anymore. Finally, I had the space of mind to truly take time in assignments and focus. I felt I was getting back in touch with life.

In my case, in order to truly recover, I had to make a complete turn-around.

Truly one of the most impactful changes was this: I took up a manual labor job on the grounds after learning about its place in true education. Working outside mowing lawns, raking leaves, pulling weeds, moving branches, or even fixing sprinkler systems for two or three hours a session allowed my mind to relax from the intellectual pressure of school while getting rewarding exercise. I felt truly refreshed after those hours, more than at almost any other time.

The Spirit of Prophecy has some very interesting and perhaps somewhat startling insights. “Educators should understand how to guard the health of their students. They should restrain them from taxing their minds with too many studies. If they leave college with a knowledge of the sciences, but with shattered constitutions, it would have been better had they not entered the school at all.”[1] 

“While some may need urging, others need holding back. Students should ever be diligent, but they ought not to crowd their minds so as to become intellectual dyspeptics.”[2] Dyspeptics are people afflicted with abdominal indigestion. In this sense she warned that piling on too much intellectual information would cause mental “indigestion”—inability to properly break down, process, organize, and use that information. This is precisely the condition that I fell into, and the same trap that many others I have spoken to have struggled with.

Perhaps the education we need and that God wants for us is not one of crowding our minds with as much information as possible (while simultaneously making our schedule so busy that we can’t take it all in), but instead using our time in a balanced way to develop the whole person—physical, intellectual, and spiritual.

Time and opportunity for physical exercise is essential to developing a well-balanced mind and body.[3] Time should be taken for exercise, book learning, and study of the word of God—and even the culture of manners (deportment) is important, and should be given time.[4] Time should be devoted to seasons of prayer to get to know Jesus, and to religious privileges.[5] 

For the busy student who can’t make major changes in schedule or activities, while it is not ideal, there are ways to maximize mental and physical health. Setting hard limits—non-negotiable bedtimes, mealtimes, and social activities, even if the latter are short—is indispensable. Use mealtimes to relax and socialize, if the rest of the day is impossibly full. Choose these things as non-negotiables, and then prioritize everything else after that. Take time to consider the paths that you are taking in life, and study the word of God, praying and asking Him if you are traveling in the right direction.

During a free period or after lunch, go for a walk listening to a podcast, some scripture, or a lecture—or even take a friend and notice simple things God has created in nature. Go to bed earlier and wake up earlier to pray, consecrate your heart to God, and study the Bible. Before bedtime, consider reading a hardcopy book to avoid screen time to help you relax in the evening and prepare for restful sleep. Portion your day into a schedule that allows as proportionate amounts of physical exercise and mental work as possible.[6] Make the effort to learn how to interact with others in a meaningful way, and take time for prayer meetings or Bible studies and other Christian fellowship. Take time to rest, even if it is short—even when your schedule seems to disallow this possibility.

The best way to improve the mind—and the most critical element—is this: “The student must have opportunities to become conversant with his Bible. He needs time for this.”[7] The more time spent in deeply studying the word of God, the easier it will be to understand our other studies.[8] Why? Because fundamentally, studying scripture requires and trains close focus and concentration, mitigating the effects of the rest of the rushed life.

God’s intention for us is “that [our colleges] shall reach a higher standard of intellectual and moral culture than any other institution of the kind in our land.”[9] Maybe if we decelerate enough and balance our activities and development, we can truly reach God’s purpose.

Ultimately, God is asking us to slow down so we can be in touch with Him. Following healthful principles does provide tangible benefits, but if it only benefits our life on earth, we “are of all men the most pitiable.”[10] For us as Christians, we have something to live for — not only now but the hereafter. God’s blueprint, more than bringing us better health and state of mind, enables us to be more in touch with Him—the “Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”[11] For ultimately, “this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”[12]

[1] Ellen G. White, Christian Education (Battle Creek, MI: International Tract Society, 1894), 28.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ellen G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education, (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1923), 423.
[4] White, Christian Education, 28.
[5] Ibid.
[6] White, Fundamentals of Christian Education, 423
[7] Ibid, emphasis added.
[8] Ellen G. White, Medical Ministry (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1932), 69.
[9] White, Christian Education, 29.
[10] 1 Cor. 15:9
[11] Isa. 40:28
[12] John 17:3

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *