On a cold and rainy evening midway through last semester, I texted a close friend: “I need a hug and maybe a cup of tea.” It had been a particularly rough day for me, compounding the pain of a rough week. The particulars of my pain that night can remain between my friend and myself. The significance of the story is that I needed that hug, and I needed that tea, and I especially needed time in the loving presence of my friend.
I know it has become something of a running joke to mock the supposed emotional fragility of college students, “safe spaces” and all that. But college can be hard. Schedules can be exacting, readings can be heavy in subject matter and it’s not as if the interpersonal dramas and all-too-human conflicts simply dissipate because one is at school. Indeed, the more college is attuned to real life (that is, the more our studies lead to personal growth), the more likely we will experience moments of deep suffering. Scripture is quite clear about the link between suffering and growth in character. Winter is particularly hard for a lot of us, with the cold and the depletion of sunlight. That means that the almost ironically-named spring semester can be more challenging than the fall for a lot of students. On top of the seasonal changes, we’re coming back to school after a mere three weeks away, unlike in the fall when we’ve had months to rest. I mention all of this because while I think the controversies around microaggressions and the like are often absurd, I also think that doesn’t negate the fact that there is often real pain in real lives on campus. So I’d like to ask us, as a community, to do two things.
The first is to keep our eyes, ears and hearts open in love to those around us, and especially our friends. Please notice those who are lonely, those who are in need of an affirming word of encouragement, those who are having a rough day and just need a friendly smile. Sometimes the only thing that’s needed to speak healing into a hurting soul is a hug and a cup of tea; sometimes healing requires more time. But being a community means that we have moral obligations to care for each other. To my shame, I can think of occasions in past semesters when I shirked this duty because I privileged my own time above the needs of my friends. God, forgive me. But I’m encouraged that communities like ours are covered in grace; we won’t love perfectly, but we will love, and we so desperately need to love and be loved.
The second thing that I ask of us as a community is perhaps the harder of the two tasks. I ask that we would ask for the care that we need. It’s not just pride that often prevents us from telling our friends when we are hurting. We can often experience guilt: Who are we to intrude? We know our friends probably have burdens of their own, and we do not wish to add weight upon their shoulders. But the beauty of community is that shared burdens are lesser burdens, and the beauty is that when we let others speak healing into our lives, we release blessings that invigorate the lives of our friends. If you are hurting, please reach out to your friends. God has placed us together for such a time as this.
My reflection here is not profound or even all that original, and making a cup of tea for a friend seems like a far cry from waking up the world. Yet it is easy to lose sight of these basic elements of community when assignments start piling up and schedules get filled. It is my prayer that the Eastern University community would be a place where love and grace flows freely. College is hard, but we will get through; we can only get through it, together.