Almost every day on my college campus, I pass a sign advertising a stress study, counseling service, or stress-management seminar. College is a stressful time, and according to recent studies, it’s only becoming more so.
It makes sense. College students are hovering on the verge of adulthood. This may be the first time some of us are making big decisions on our own. And it feels like every decision matters so much. What will we do with our life? What kind of community will we build? What sort of person will we become? Christian students face a unique set of pressures as we attempt to think about our lives in relation to God’s plan and what he’s called us to do with the gifts and circumstances he’s given us.
Campus minister and author Shelby Abbott explores these unique stressors in his new book, Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress. Abbott gently reminds Christian students that college campuses often create environments in which it’s perfectly acceptable to be self-absorbed. He calls students out of lives of selfishness and fear—and into lives of selflessness and bravery—by reminding us that we’re just one thread in the perfectly planned tapestry our heavenly Father is weaving.
Abbott’s book covers a broad variety of topics, ranging from vocation to sexuality to cellphone use. The chapters I found most helpful deal with understanding life direction, finding community, and living with suffering.
Pressure of Calling
In searching for a vocation, Abbott explains, our main “calling” is to an eternal relationship with God. Our story is important, but it’s a subplot in the majestic plot of God’s master story. As Abbott so aptly puts it, “A calling is not the same as certain responsibilities, but more of the way my life is lived out in my church, my job, my connections, and my relationships.”
This is an encouraging word in an environment that puts immense value on what you do, rather than who you are. It also gives Christian students the freedom to focus on others, rather than meander around in a self-absorbed haze, wondering if they’re choosing the right major or internship opportunity that aligns with God’s plan for their life. Abbott points students toward Scripture and warns against the fleeting nature of feelings. Feeling called to do something may change, but the truth of Scripture and who we are in Christ will not.
Pressure of Community
In his chapters on friendship and community, Abbott reminds us that life in college is catered to us. We try to find the “right” campus ministry, classes, church, and friendships that fit our needs and make us feel loved or secure. But instead of just asking what a church or campus ministry or friend might do for us, we should give ourselves for others in sacrificial service. This suggests that true life and fulfillment occur when we aren’t desperately grasping for the best possible experience we can get for ourselves.
Abbott weaves this theme of selflessness throughout Pressure Points. When discussing romantic relationships, for example, he reminds us to love those we date first as our neighbors. We’re to treat everyone, including those we date, with respect, letting our “yes be yes and our no be no.” He also encourages students to pick a Bible-preaching church and commit to it, even when things get boring, the worship music changes, or we feel we’re not “getting” what we want from it.
Pressure of Suffering
Abbott wisely urges students to practice the art of patience in college, to “lean in” to those times we feel bored or lonely or frustrated, to fight against a world that trains us “from birth to eliminate suffering from every part of our lives.” I love how he puts it:
If we are willing to push back on our reactive nature and walk for a time in the suffering, we can begin to identify with the beauty of Christ’s suffering in ways we never would have before.
This is vital to hear during a time of life that can feel dominated by fear, loneliness, and frustration. Learning to walk with God through suffering—instead of frantically running from it and turning to social media, perfectionism, or achievement to numb the pain—is a lesson we’ll be learning our whole lives. And Abbott provides a much-needed reminder that the suffering we face isn’t in vain when we’re followers of Jesus.
Pressure Points is a timely and practical guide to navigating the stress that so many face in college. Abbott’s extensive time working with college students has given him a deep understanding of paralyzing pressures that college students face—and he does a good job of taking the pressures seriously while still encouraging students to look outside themselves. Because Abbott covers such a wide expanse of topics, the chapters are by no means all-encompassing, but he provides a springboard for students to dive into certain topics that may be more meaningful or relevant to them.
I wish I had read this book before I went to college, and would encourage any incoming college students to read it.