Keeping the Faith in Grad School
Column Description: Writing as a Christian who is a doctoral student at a public institution of higher learning, Lakelyn reflects on how graduate students can maintain their faith in graduate school when it seems hard to do. This column is not about how to “beat” the “other” side in debates about religion or secular ideas. It is not a column about winning arguments or converting people. Rather, it is about cultivating Christian mindsets to various struggles in graduate school and navigating what it means to be a Christian and a scholar.
By Lakelyn Taylor
University of Central Florida
Key Practices in Keeping the Faith
I believe one of the great myths of graduate school is the idea of work-life balance. Graduate school feels like a never-ending rock pile—right when you get rid of one giant rock, five more smaller(ish) rocks fall into its place. One of the metaphors many advisors in my life have used up to this point is the idea that each thing in our lives is a ball we are juggling. Some balls are rubber while others are glass. If you drop a rubber ball, it’s not that big of a deal because it’ll bounce. If you drop a glass ball, that’s slightly more of a problem. It’s really about determining what can bounce in your life and what can’t.
I would consider your personal spiritual walk to be a glass ball. Not everything you do to maintain that walk has to be a glass ball, but keeping our faith in the despairs and joys of graduate school is highly important. In this month’s entry, I’m going to explore some key practices to help us practically keep the faith as students.
First, I cannot underestimate the importance of Sabbath rest. Taking one full, 24-hour day off from working can be critical not only for your spiritual health but for your mental, physical, and emotional health as well.
One of the pastors at the church I attend once gave me a book called 24/6: A Prescription for a Happier, Healthier Life (Sleeth, 2012). The book is all about why and how to participate in Sabbath rest in the business of our weeks (10/10 would recommend you read this book). Written by a medical doctor, the author mentions how taking one day a week to refocus our energies and remind ourselves of the bigger picture can rejuvenate us and prepare us for the next six days.
Not to mention, remembering the Sabbath is one of the core commandments in the Bible (see Exodus 20:8-11). I know it seems impossible to take a full 24-hours off. Believe me, I know. And hear me when I say I am currently not doing it very well. But I’ve done it before and it is immensely helpful. So, for this key practice, try taking one day a week off—it doesn’t have to be Sunday or a weekend day—and try to maintain that for two weeks. That’s only two days off and it will be worth it. Then, if you can, keep practicing it!
Second, get connected to a local church in your area and stay plugged in. Get involved by being a part of a small group or volunteering with one of the church’s ministry opportunities. Hebrews 10:24-25 (HCSB) tells us, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Now, I mention that verse not to be legalistic about how much you should be in church but to demonstrate the importance of being together with other believers. Isolation can be one of Satan’s greatest weapons against us and graduate school is notorious for making students want to hunker down away from others just to get everything done. Resist that temptation. Find a church in your area and try to attend regularly. If possible, try to volunteer even if it’s just greeting people as they come in the door. It may seem too time consuming but being a part of a group of Brothers and Sisters who aren’t constantly reminding you of all the work you should be doing can ground you and help remind you that you are more than your work. You are more than graduate school and you have a bigger purpose out there in the world. So, for this key practice, find a church if you haven’t already, and try to attend at least every other week. Then, try to pick up one small volunteer role or small group to join.
Know your “Why”
Finally, choose a mission statement and let God remind you why you are here in the first place. Another way of saying choose a mission statement is to pick a life verse. Find a verse that can rekindle your fire when you are feeling burnt out. Try to find one that reminds you of who you are in Christ and the things that truly matter. In my first column, I shared my life verses are Colossians 4:5-6. This may seem cliché and basic, but if superheroes can have a mission statement so can you. It doesn’t have to be super original, though. Mine is fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding) which reminds me that faith comes first—before my research and my teaching and my quest for knowledge. Another slogan I’ve heard quite a bit that I am partial to is, “Remember your why.” Remember why you started. Remember why you persevere. Remember why you care. Knowing the “why” of the matter can help you push through when you are being dragged down by the “what” of graduate school. So, for this key practice, find a life verse and/or mission statement and post it somewhere noticeable.
I would like to leave off with one last key practice: Love God. That’s all He really asks you do to anyway (see Romans 13:8-10). Keeping the faith is a practice we need to pursue, but be encouraged that God is already proud of you. He already loves you and is already pleased with you. Doing the above practices are just an added bonus of getting to know Him better. If you are struggling to keep the faith, don’t be discouraged! Have grace with yourself and just keep trying. God loves you no matter what. My prayer for you this week is that you find a way to juggle all those rubber and glass balls.
And so we go…