Skip to main content

Riding the Academic Roller Coaster? Harness Your Student with Prayer.

two friends enjoy coffee while looking at their computers

As schools across the country open their (virtual) doors this week, students and parents alike are buckling up for the 2020 fall semester roller coaster. Is there a cure for this "commotion sickness"?

“How are you feeling today?” It’s a question we get a lot these days. Do you have a fever? A dry cough? Any difficulty breathing? Many of us answer these questions on a daily basis before heading into work, health clubs and senior living facilities. And this is about to be every parent’s dialog with their child at the beginning of each school day. But I’m specifically interested in how your gut is feeling lately. Are you having any tummy troubles unrelated to your overall health? As I mention it, perhaps you are noticing some unease rumbling around in there. If so, your high school or college student is likely feeling it even more than you are.

All the controversy about if, when and how to resume school has left parents and students alike feeling motion sick. It’s an epic academic roller coaster ride full of unexpected twists and turns that everyone wants to hop off.

How do I know this? I have a long and unhappy history with roller coasters.

When I was a kid, the final weeks of summer were filled with a series of lasts – getting the last few punches on my laminated pool pass, riding my bike to town for the last of the weeknight ice cream runs and, if I was lucky, taking one last trip to the nearest amusement park. I remember loving the freedom of roaming the park with my girlfriends after vowing to meet my parents back at the entrance at “9 p.m. SHARP.” I remember the sugar coma induced by a day’s diet of cotton candy, snow cones and soda. And I remember trying SO HARD not to throw up on every single roller coaster ride. 

Sometimes I still feel like that nauseous kid on the roller coaster. For whatever reason, this girl’s tummy just can’t handle life’s sudden twists and turns, both literally and metaphorically. I find myself living out these pandemic days with a bit of a sour stomach, trying unsuccessfully to pivot with every new CDC recommendation and governmental update. 

This kind of turbulence is admittedly complicated for adults to navigate, but it can be uniquely unsettling for our high school and college students to process as they begin another school year full of uncertainty. They wonder whether they will experience the fun of homecoming or musical performances with friends or have opportunities like internships and campus leadership roles to boost future resumes. Many athletes wonder if their season will be delayed or cancelled altogether. Even now, some residential college students are moving into dorm rooms that they may need to move back out of much sooner than next spring. All of these unknowns are undergirded with fears associated with either contracting or spreading the Coronavirus.

As if these twists and turns aren’t enough, our students are constantly jerked around by every alert they see on their phones. They are tempted to lose focus every time they get an email update from their school or hear another alarming news bite. It’s no wonder their stomachs are tied up in knots.

Is there any cure out there for all this “commotion sickness?” 

Health experts tell us that one way to avoid getting car sick is to look straight ahead at a fixed point, NOT at the twists and turns in the road. Where is the horizon line on which these students can steady their gaze in the face of continued uncertainty? We find our answer in the Bible. Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”  Jesus is our horizon line, our point of focus, our “anchor for the soul, firm and secure (Heb. 6:19).” We must steady our gaze on Jesus in order to stay grounded spiritually. But how can we as parents help them keep their focus on the fact that Jesus is steadfast - the same yesterday, today and forever amidst all these unprecedented disruptions (Heb. 13:8)?

We can pray. 

We can pray over them. We can pray with them. We can pray whether they are home at school or away at school. We can pray whether they have strong faith or are far from God. We can pray that the love of Jesus be the firm footing our students need in an ever-changing world. We can pray that they be grounded in both the knowledge of and experience with Christ’s deep and abiding love. Prayer is the harness that holds our kids tight on this wild academic ride.

In his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, the apostle Paul wrote down some of the unshakeable truths that he prayed over his spiritual children in order to steady them (and us!) in the school of faith. We can imitate him by praying some of these same verses over our own kids this fall.

Ephesians 1: 17-19

"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe."

Ephesians 3: 16-19

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

Philippians 1:9-11

"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God."

Philippians 2:3, 13-16

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves….for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, 'children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.' Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life."

Colossians 1:9-12

"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light."

Colossians 2:6-7

"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."

Although I’m still the woman who discretely checks her seat-back pocket for the air sick bag if my flight experiences any kind of extended turbulence, my pandemic stomach is starting to feel more at ease after grabbing hold of the truths found in these verses. Rest assured, we have a sovereign, unshakeable God who is able to keep our students from stumbling (Jude 24-25). It is he himself who makes them strong, firm and steadfast (1 Pet. 5:10). The roller coaster of life, death, pandemics, politics, past problems or present pain absolutely cannot separate them from the love of God received in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:38-39). May it be this love that steadies their hearts and minds through the twists and turns of today.