Next September it will be ten years since I became a university student. At first glance, if I compare my experience to today’s student, it might look fairly similar. Yet when we scratch the surface, maybe more has changed than we might realise.
Living on the other side of lockdown, the Covid pandemic sometimes seems like a weird collective dream we once had. It’s amazing how quickly we forget the times of social distancing and restrictions. However, though memory fades, that time did leave its mark. For students today, their university experience, though free from Covid regulations, is still affected by it. Anxiety is a close companion to many students. Life had to be lived online – school as well as socialising. They missed key steps including taking exams, going out with their friends and growing in independence. Now, some suffer from imposter syndrome, worried that they don’t measure up to their grade and others find socialising in person exhausting and the freedom overwhelming.
On the other hand, elements of life that were seen as a ‘given’ are now cherished because of the lost years. While working with Christian Unions (CUs) here in Ireland, I’ve noticed this change of appreciation. The first ‘Weekend Away’ for the CUs after Covid was so encouraging as everyone was so excited to be together again. This has also been obvious in CU events, non-Christian students are happy to come along with friends to socialise and meet people their age and have found the sense of community in the CU really attractive.
Changes in the world over the last few years have brought the big questions about life closer. The pandemic and the war in the Ukraine have brought the reality of death to each student’s doorstep. Along with that, following the rise in ‘fake news’, ‘online experts’ and the ‘cost of living crisis’, there’s a sense of growing distrust and confusion. Many are pondering the question about where the ‘truth’ is found and the loudest answer to that is probably the inclusive society that informs them that ‘the truth is to be found within’ and ‘you are the master of your own truth’.
As lovely and liberating as that may sound, this answer is an empty myth. It does not serve as a solution; the brokenness of the world continues and the brokenness within is only highlighted. What’s left then for the worried young student trying to enjoy life post Covid?
The privileges and challenges that students face might look different ten years on, but the truth has not changed. The solution is still available to be found. Our God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8) and he is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).
As we seek to reach students with the gospel today, our job is to declare that the absolute truth is to be found in Jesus himself and that by knowing him we find true peace. Alongside our declarations we must show that life knowing Jesus and submitting to him as our Lord is so much better. Yes, choosing to follow Jesus will cost, it might mean leaving desires behind, going against the flow and accepting that we are all guilty in need of forgiveness for our sins. Yet, once we ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Ps. 34:8) there’s nothing that can compare to being together with our God, just as we were meant to be.