Hey, uni students

Here’s some advice from an old man about this summer holidays.

Back when I used to play football (the round-ball kind) for a local club, the tournament would often pause for a couple of weeks in the middle of winter.

It was an all-age competition. That’s code, of course, for “fat and sly.” We couldn’t keep up with the youngsters any more; but we had a few tricks of our own. A bit of niggle; a generous use of the shoulder. Our defenders’ studs would somehow keep catching in the opposing striker’s laces. That sort of thing.

It almost made up for the fact that some of our jerseys couldn’t meet our shorts in the middle. I remember one midfielder who always knocked back a tinnie and a ciggie at half time, and cheerfully chucked in the far corner when the final whistle blew.

Anyway, did I mention ‘all-age’? Some of us had kids. That meant school holidays, a lengthy break, and always – always – a significant slump in form.

We’d start the season like the sad, sclerotic sacks we’d become, but through sheer horror at our condition, would drag ourselves into some kind of shape. We’d bully and cajole each other into laps around the outfield, push-ups in the in-goal and sprints between those little orange cones. Left to ourselves we’d never have the discipline; but as team, we could muster just enough esprit de corps that our desire to turn up and give a decent account of ourselves each game would get us over the line.

Then the school holidays arrived. We’d go our separate ways, to cheap campgrounds and borrowed beach houses and the sudden collapse of structure that is simultaneously so refreshing and enervating. The fastest we would walk for two weeks, or maybe three, was the pace of the toddler holding our hand. And when we came back? It hardly seems possible but, if anything, we’d be slower than when the season started.

That’s my experience of university students over summer, too.

Most of you are now facing an almost intolerable burden of holidays. I say ‘intolerable’, because we human beings aren’t made for the sheer intensity of aimlessness embodied in the Australian uni break. The potential of these holidays for tawdry self-indulgence is breath-taking. More than that: the risk is that, having grown and deepened throughout this year, you might return from holidays in poorer form than you left.

Remember, these weeks off uni were never intended as a recognition of the heroic sacrifices that you’ve made for study in 2019. They were always intended to allow academics a break from teaching to pursue their research. They aren’t designed to be good for you. And they’re not.

But, like all things, under Christ, burden can be turned to blessing. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Read your bibles and pray, a little every day.
    Don’t strive for perfection, because your failure will crush your good intentions. Grab a Tyndale NIV bible-in-a-year and read the scheduled passages. Or the first sentence of them. I don’t really care. The key isn’t to have your socks knocked off every morning; the key is immersion – to insist, against the insistent drown of the cicadas, that God is king, and this world is heading somewhere. Bible reading is like jogging. It’s rare for anything substantial to happen in any one act of discipline; over a year, though, the change is electrifying.
  • Go to church. Every, single week.
    I don’t care where you are, how small the church, so long as God’s people meet, the Bible is faithfully taught, and the sacraments rightly administered. Don’t compartmentalise your life. God isn’t a ‘part’ of your city experience, and nor are his people. ‘Do not give up the habit of meeting together,’ writes the author of Hebrews. There is nothing better for your soul than to regularly gather with a group of ageing saints one step from the grave and glory, with a heart full of love for fellow sinners saved by grace.
  • Stretch, don’t shrink.
    Think you’ve finished your study for the year? What a waste of life! Use your summer to invest in some serious theological development. Set aside an hour a day, a morning a week and a day a month to grow your vision of God. Read Sarah Ruden’s translation of Augustine’s Confessions, J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, C.S. Lewis’ God in the Dock, Meredith Lake’s The Bible in Australia, Elizabeth Elliot’s biography of Amy Carmichael, A Chance to Die, or Kevin DeYoung’s Why We Still Love the Church.
  • Rule your time, don’t be ruled.
    Write a plan for your holidays. Get a diary. Plan your time. Go to the beach without your phone. Never carry it in your pocket. Charge it in the family room. Buy a cheap alarm clock for beside your bed. Get a trusted friend to enter the passcode for your screen time, put a hard limit on socials and only allow phone calls at all times. Go to bed early and ask friends and family to help (the latest sleep medicine indicates both length of sleep and going to bed early have benefits equal to the most powerful anti-depressants). Go for a run. Yes, you!: your mind and soul are dependent on your body.

While it’s true that our lives can collapse in a chaotic heap over a lengthy holidays, this need not be the rule. You can return from a break both refreshed and with a new spiritual muscle memory that will carry you through the year. You can come back both rested, and without regrets, knowing that you have numbered your days and used your time well. You can land back at university with more wisdom, more delight in God, more peace and of more use to our King and Saviour.

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