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Chaplain’s Corner: God Is at Work in Our Struggles

November 6, 2018
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Dr. Burt Burleson, Baylor’s University Chaplain and Dean of Spiritual Life, is a Baylor grad and parent of two grown children. Here, he shares insights from ministry with our students.

Because of my role at Baylor, I’m reminded daily of all that we carry. Just sit with and listen to any “frail creature of dust” for a bit and anyone half-awake would join me in affirming that everyone has their share burdens to bear. Some of the weight on our shoulders is personal and obvious: it could be health or a relationship, our vocation or maybe a huge spiritual question.

In addition, whether we know it or not, we’re all bearing part of what hurts the world. That’s my conviction, anyway. Each human being and especially those with Christ-like hearts, bear the world’s pain with God, often unconsciously.

Most days, some of that pain is in my office, held and expressed by our students. As you walk alongside your daughter or son, you may sense this too. The result, with this generation especially, is that there are many students who struggle to thrive in college. In the Chaplain’s office, we regularly walk with students dealing with depression or anxiety. This suffering is a challenge on campuses across the nation. As a part of our commitment to be a caring community, Baylor works hard to help through support services and various programs and especially through compassionate staff and faculty who are always willing to get under the load with our students. That’s what a caring community does. (Learn more about resources like Spiritual Life and the Baylor University Counseling Center.)

But I have found myself thinking lately, that we also need to be teaching about suffering and that this is something we must do together. Can we teach one another and our students the role these struggles play in our formation as human beings and Christians? This does not seem to be something my “baby-boom” generation of parents did well. We were set on removing everything that might cause our children to struggle. I’m aware of my own failures there...am I the only one who has unnecessarily saved my children from some hard stuff?

Scripture often addresses the significance of suffering, not that God has caused our pain or struggles, but that it is often what God seems primarily to use to mature us. Remember Paul’s teaching that “in all things” God is up to something good in our lives. And have you wondered what the author of Hebrews meant by saying Jesus was “made perfect” through suffering? Something holy is taking place when we hurt.

I know some really bad theology and untimely guidance can be shared with those in pain by friends who are trying to connect with this truth. But that acknowledged, it is central to the Christian faith that suffering leads us somewhere, if our path resembles in any way the path of Jesus.

So, what might that look like for those of us parenting emerging adults? We know in our hearts that God is at work in the hard stuff... grace pools up in the low places. We’ve seen that in our own lives, haven’t we? Allowing it to shape how we relate to our students is the hard part. It will, most certainly, involve growth on our parts as we deal less anxiously with our own suffering. It will most certainly mean being less quick fix or to “come running” or pay for or to do whatever our parental default rescue is. We’ll need to slow down and to pray for guidance about when and how to help. And then, perhaps when the time is right, it might mean having a good teaching conversation about how important and essential it is to learn how to bear suffering. And not simply because we want to succeed but because this spiritual work leads us and God’s world towards wholeness.

Baylor’s caring community is filled with people who care deeply about students and their experiences. When your student needs to turn to someone for guidance or support, numerous resources are available, including the Chaplain’s office in Baylor Spiritual Life (click here to learn more) or the Baylor Counseling Center (click here to learn more or set up an appointment).
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