Thoughts From the Summer Vac
Jon Carlisle, UCCF Relay Worker in Oxford, helpfully takes us through the question - What do I do when I feel spiritually drained during the vac?
Most students will know the feeling of getting more and more exhausted over the course of an Oxford term. You finish 8th week as a hollow shell of a human, hobble into the vacation, and recover just enough energy to get you through the next term, and so the cycle continues. It may be like that with a student’s physical energy (for better or worse), but it seems to me like the Christian student can experience the opposite cycle when it comes to “spiritual energy”.
A term begins, and you are surrounded by a community of students who are passionate about Jesus, encouraging you to keep going on your walk of faith. There are events going on several times a week which point you to Jesus, and maybe you even invite your friends along. Not to mention that Oxford is spoiled for choice when it comes to Bible-believing churches with flourishing and supportive church families! After eight weeks, you may be physically drained, but you feel like you’re in a great place with God.
But then you go home, and everything just feels hard. Relationships feel distant; the friends you’ve just spent every moment of every day with are suddenly scattered across the world. Perhaps you don’t have a church at home, or your home church has no one else your age. Maybe you don’t feel very close to your home friends anymore, so you end up not interacting with anyone most days. It feels like you’re in limbo waiting for the next term to roll around. What’s more, paradoxically, the new-found free time can actually feel really paralysing! Any routine that may have been there during term-time goes out the window, and now doing any minor task feels insurmountable. The busy-ness of term may have kept that one particular temptation off your mind, but now there’s nothing to distract you, and you feel drawn to it all the more.
But that’s enough doom and gloom. If you relate to some (or all) of these situations, I want to offer you one encouragement and two practical tips.
Firstly, let’s look to God and see that He always stays the same. While our faith may fluctuate up and down, Christ always remains faithful (see 2 Timothy 2:11-13). We can be thankful that our standing with God as his forgiven people, as his adopted children, does not flip-flop like our mood or zeal does over the course of a year. Let it sink in that God, the creator of the whole universe, not only loves you, but loves you steadfastly and abundantly. His love for you is sure: the saving work done at the cross is no less effective when you feel down than when you feel great!
Now here’s my first tip: stay plugged in to Christian community, including locally. Church at home doesn’t have to look anything like church at uni, but gathering weekly with brothers and sisters in Christ will make a world of difference. Why not serve on a rota for a few weeks over the vac? It’ll help you to feel like you’re not just floating in a bubble waiting to return to Oxford, but tangibly part of Christ’s church wherever you find yourself. Also, let me encourage you to be bold – be the first one to send a text! If you’re feeling spiritually low, don’t wait for someone to reach out; ask a friend to pray for you! I’m confident that they will. Not only that, but ask how you can be praying for them – chances are they might be feeling low too, and so you have the opportunity to build one another up.
My second tip is to set aside some daily quiet time to read the Bible and pray. This is so much easier said than done, but the vacation does offer a really good opportunity to give this a go! Even small tasks can feel daunting during the vac, but spending five minutes hearing God’s voice through his word and bringing your anxieties to him in prayer will give you some grounding in an otherwise empty and formless period. It may start off feeling like ticking a box, but that’s fine; often the feeling comes later: you won’t love running after your first jog, you won’t be thinner after one day of a diet, and you won’t feel “spiritually high” after one quiet time!
I hope these reflections will be helpful to you if you’re feeling spiritually drained at the moment. One last thing to say is that even if you are plugged in with a church community and you read the Bible and pray every day, the vacation might still be really hard. I don’t want to pretend that these tips will guarantee you an easy vac! But, know that God uses hard times to grow you to become more and more Christ-like. No one can relate to isolation and temptation more than Jesus. So, trust in him and know that you are not alone: whether it’s a text or a prayer, you can always reach out to someone.