Returning to campus from my dreamy, slow, family-filled Christmas breaks, I remember cheerfully thinking “Ah, I’ll just ease into my new classes, maybe pick up that novel I’ve had on my shelf the past couple years. Who knows? I might even workout four times a week if I’m feeling really crazy. It’s going to be chill.” I always thought I would return to campus a better, slower, wiser man. New year, new beginnings. Right?
And then every single January, without fail, life would hit me like a freight train. “Shoot! I forgot to order books for that class!” “Woah, practices are ramping up fast.” “Seriously, Professor? You’re not even going to take a ‘syllabus day?’” “Shoot! Shoot! Practices are really ramping up! I’m rustier than I expected! I have to practice more!” “But wait! My pals are back! Let’s kick it!! YUHHH!” Time and time again, the transition back into student life was 0 to 60. So how do we start a new semester well?
It doesn’t take long for our schedules to fill up with the sudden influx of friends, the New Year’s resolutions that we’re oh-so determined to stick to, and the increasingly higher-level classes. We can quickly get buried in the endless to-dos, the desire to make good grades, the expectations of our parents or coaches, etc. Weeks can fly by before we realize that we’re just putting our head down and barreling our way through yet another semester. The life of a college student is a busy one. There’s no denying it. Therefore, if we want to begin again and do it well, it’s crucial to understand what is good busyness and what is bad busyness.
We live in an accelerated society that values production, profit, and pleasure. These values are inflamed on college campuses. People have four years to frantically meet deadlines and set themselves up for future success, all while having the most fun that they possibly can. If anything threatens to hinder any of these objectives, it’s to be dismissed as useless, a waste of time, or a burden. It’s go-go-go, non-stop. Take-take-take ‘til I get to the top. Dance-dance-dance to my fav Tswift bop. (Man, should I have been a poet?)
Carl Jung, a pioneer in the field of psychology who inspired the Myers Briggs personality test, once said “Hurry isn’t of the devil; hurry is the devil.” Corrie ten Boom, a Dutchwoman who helped Jewish people escape the Nazis during the Holocaust, once said “If the devil cannot us make us bad, he will make us busy.” John Mark Comer, a non-denominational pastor, wisely noted that “Both sin and busyness have the exact same effect—they cut off your connection to God, to other people, and even to your own soul.” There is a type of busyness that our world—and especially our campus—promotes that is not fit for our walks as disciples of Christ. There is a type of busyness that fights to take our minds away from God because it knows that our hearts follow our minds and our feet follow our hearts. There is a type of busyness, and you know what I’m talking about, that masks itself as good for us—and especially for our future selves—but is actually detrimental to our spiritual lives and present selves.
There is also a type of busyness that is good and holy. Jesus was a busy man. He was responsible for proclaiming the Kingdom to all of Israel. That takes a lot of work. Though he was busy, Jesus was also an unhurried man. Whenever he was interrupted, he was fully present to the interrupter. He constantly retreated into silence to go pray. He was never stressed out. He remained mindful of God and present to those who approached him. He did his work, and there was a lot of it, but he never jeopardized his relationship with God. As his disciples, we are to live similarly. We are to live busy—sure—but unhurried lives, and we do this by committing America’s mortal sin: consistently doing nothing (aka prayer).
The Benedictine monk, Father Michael Casey, writes, “Silence…stands outside the world of profit and utility…It interferes with the regular flow of the purposeful…It makes things whole again, by taking them back from the world of dissipation into the world of wholeness.” Silence is the place of encounter with the Divine, the Being outside of time. It’s a fight to break the rhythm of craziness, but we become whole again by doing so. In the world’s eyes, prayer is pointless. This is why Father Michael Casey calls silence “holy uselessness.” However, ask anyone with a regular habit of prayer if he or she thinks prayer is actually useless. There’s nothing more profitable than abiding in the one who created everything. For you high-achievers who just can’t stop, rest assured that there is nothing more productive you can do than to pray.
“Be constant in prayer…” “Pray without ceasing…” “…praying at all times in the Spirit…” “Continue steadfastly in prayer…” Saint Paul reiterates this sentiment throughout his letters. We are to pray at all times. “Well, ugh! Dude! I have final exams to study for.” Here’s a hot take for you…It’s better to get C’s and keep a consistent prayer life than to get straight A’s and let your prayer life fall by the wayside. Yow, that’s a sizzler. But I stand by it. I’m not here condoning sloth in your classes. You ought to strive for excellence in your vocation as a student. You should definitely study for your final exams. However, you belong in relationship with God astronomically more than you belong in some profession. We are made for friendship with God, not achieving a certain GPA or entry-level salary.
The Church teaches us that “we cannot pray ‘at all times’ if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it” (CCC 2697). We need to carve out time for God in order for him to fill us and saturate our lives. It’s like any sport. In order to play well in games, we need to carve out time to practice. If you’re not an athlete and that metaphor doesn’t quite do it for you, it’s like a dam. In order to distribute water to all the places that need some, you have to first build a structure to retain water. That time we carve out for God is absolutely essential to living a godly life and it will pour out into others. We cannot jeopardize it. We have to fight for it. We have to guard it like our lives depend on it. Because they do.
The best way you can start this semester well is by praying well. You pray well by simply showing up. The Church also teaches us that “Only when we humbly acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought,’ are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer” (CCC 2564). Isn’t that crazy? Our Church literally teaches that the first step to prayer is admitting you don’t know how to pray. You don’t have to “do it right.” You don’t have to receive profound insights. You don’t have to get all the feels. You just have to be.
When life gets frantic—and it will—make prayer the first thing you go to, not the first thing to go. When the pressure of performance kicks in—and it will—leave space for God to work, don’t leave God for your work. And most importantly, when you fall—and you will—pull yourself back up and don’t back down. Godspeed, brothers and sisters. Start this semester off well (God-speed is slow by the way).