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Anxious and alone

Isabel Quinlan, 26/10/21

Anxious and alone

The radio played in the background this morning as I drove to meet some students. Half–listening, my ears pricked up when a very sombre–sounding woman said, “we must all eventually turn inwards to find peace”. This was no special Zen–Breathing session on an alternative station, but a regular Today FM show. The woman contended that “focussed breathing” was for everyone. Apparently building just 16 seconds of meditation into your daily routine will help you escape the pressure and find that inner calm we’re all seeking.

A few minutes later, a student confided in me that she was postponing her studies for a year at least, as isolation was taking its toll on her mental health. She couldn’t continue under the demands of college.

The night before, another student told me he took a gap year to explore his options, but lockdown had scuppered his plans. He’s facing another year of concerned looks and questions from parents and friends; the pressure to make something of himself is causing him to feel helpless and panicked.

We don’t know exactly what the impact of Covid has been on our mental health yet as a nation, but students are sharing stories of intense pressure, classmates dropping out, and waves of anxiety and depression.

As Staff Workers operating on the ground with students, we’re not totally surprised at how they’re faring. We know we’re made for community, for relationships. We always encourage students to join a church and CU family while at university or college. We know we can’t flourish by ourselves.

But how much more do we feel this now?

When a student tells you they have no friends after their first year of university and don’t know if they’ll make any this year either, how can you encourage them?

One way the gospel brings hope to our students in these moments is this: although we’re suffering the consequences of the fall, Jesus is bringing something beautiful out of it.

We’ve turned away from the lover of our souls. We’ve felt the pain of loneliness. We’ve longed for more, looking inwards to find that which we crave.

Jesus himself left the loving presence of his Father and stood in our place as he alone drank the bitter cup for us. No–one could stand with him. No–one remained faithful to him. But he did it to draw near to you and me.

And now, in our loneliness, Jesus comes close; closer than we could imagine. He’s closer than the breath in our lungs. So last year, when Christian Unions throughout our island committed to loving and being there for each other over Zoom, they were telling each other that Jesus is close.

While culture preaches relief from isolation’s thrall by looking inward, our CUs are preaching a gospel of an outgoing lover who seeks his beloved. Of a lover who sees you and embraces you when no–one else will.

Universities across Ireland will roll out resources this year to help students with their mental wellbeing, after 18 months of lockdowns. But students will need more than guided meditations, “focussed breathing” and self–help. They’ll need Christian Unions. Because they need Jesus.

Pray for students who begin this academic year feeling alone. Pray they would seek and find Jesus.

He is close.

––Isabel Quinlan, Staff Worker