When the question is put to me—“How do you handle the stress of finals from within your religious tradition?”—I’d like to say something about quiet meditation, or focused scripture reading, or even just the occasional prayer. But I would be lying.
In truth, I don’t handle the stress of finals (or any stress, for that matter) very well. I eat and drink unhealthy things. I don’t sleep very much. I’m short, or just plain nonexistent, with friends and family. And I do very little praying. In other words, there’s nothing very “religious” about the way I tend to handle stress.
Perhaps it’s an indication of a deeper lack of “genuine” faith on my part, the fact that when the going gets tough I lack the immediate impulse to throw myself at the feet of God and, at times, all too quickly rush to the conclusion that everything is meaningless and terrible. What does this say about me? If I say I have faith, but don’t actually live as though I have faith, did I ever really have faith after all?
I take comfort in the bumbling forgetfulness of Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel stories. Like the story in the Gospel of Luke, for instance, when Jesus and the disciples are sailing across a lake and their boat is suddenly caught up in a violent storm. The disciples, out of their characteristic comical stupidity and lack of faith, assume they’re perishing. Jesus, with his patient exasperation, puts it to them, “Where is your faith?”
I imagine myself there now, on the dark passage of grad school finals, wet and huddled with the disciples without even the slightest feeling of reliance on God’s presence and provision in the midst of it all. “We’re perishing!” I yell (a common phrase among grad students, as it turns out).
But God, patiently exasperated I’m sure, is with me still, even in these stormy, sea–sprayed moments when I refuse to acknowledge it or even believe it.
Photo by dingbat2005, via Flickr Creative Commons.
I am a graduate of the Vanderbilt University Divinity School and am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Vanderbilt's Community Research & Action program. My research and writing interests include interfaith relations, faith–based community development, congregational studies, and religion & politics.