A Call to Sit in the Mud with Gen Z: Sarah’s Story
“We’re the loneliest and most seen generation,” Sarah Ludvik, InterVarsity campus minister and recent graduate of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, said.
Many members of Gen Z can relate. Though they’re connected to each other via a million different apps, their rates of depression, anxiety, and loneliness are higher than previous generations.
While we can’t erase the pandemic from history or eradicate the usage of social media, there’s actually some good news. Sarah feels that Gen Z doesn’t need a new or flashy solution to their problems. They need us to practice a method so old and so tried-and-true and so important that Jesus modeled it to us 2,000 years ago. They need us to “sit in the mud” with them.
Peter, the woman at the well, Zacchaeus and others felt the need to hide their shame from Jesus. But Jesus connected with them deeply and tenderly. He sat in the mud with them, caring for them despite who they were, all they’d done, and all they’d been through.
“I used to think when I’m good at sports, when I have good grades, I’m loved more,” Sarah said. “When I didn’t have things to be proud of, I didn’t feel seen or known.”
Sarah grew up excelling in nearly everything she did––sports, academics, and leadership roles in student organizations. She always had lots of friends, a trend that continued into college.
But a growing discomfort grew within Sarah. This manifested into depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder she felt like she couldn’t talk to anyone about. She carried shame associated with failure—failure of not being put-together or perfect. Failure to live up to the image she portrayed to the world.
Sarah had grown up in church, but her faith really shifted in college. On a study abroad trip to South Africa her freshmen year, she felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a way she never had before and began asking God what it would look like to have his heart on campus. When she returned to Greensboro, she joined a Bible study. A year later, she heard about InterVarsity, got plugged in, and began planting and leading a Bible study for sorority students.
One day, she finally mustered up the courage to tell her InterVarsity staff worker about what she’d been privately dealing with for years— her eating disorder, her doubt, her preoccupation with image, and the pride that was working overtime to cover it all up.
“Did you not just hear me? All my sins?” She asked in shock when her staff worker didn’t flinch.
“You’re waiting for us to say your sin is too much, but that’s not what Jesus does,” her staff worker said.
Where Sarah expected to be met with judgement, condemnation, and disappointment, she found safety, compassion, and freedom. More than that, as her campus minister sat in the mud with her, she was finally known.
In her InterVarsity community, Sarah was reminded of God’s love and was able to open up about her struggles honestly and vulnerably. She learned to bring her real self alongside real people. Even if those real things about her felt ugly and wrong, Sarah’s community showed her that God wanted to meet her there––especially there––where his grace was sufficient.
What Gen Z Needs
While young people should be able to seek solace in the Church, they instead are leaving it. “If the Church’s role is to love people well and show people the Lord, the greatest way we can do that is sitting in the mud with people,” Sarah said.
That seems difficult when many of us might feel pressure to portray our “best” selves. We post on social media about our successes in school or work but don’t rush to talk about the mistakes we make daily and the shame we carry as a result. All too often, the things we need to talk about most remain unspoken.
But Jesus knows about all our issues, and he wants us to bring them to him and our embodied communities.
Sarah and college students all over the country want to be truly seen and truly known. They just need people who they can turn to and trust, who will sit in the mud with them and show them that God is there.
To find out how you can partner with InterVarsity as we sit in the mud with Gen Z, click here.
Emily Baez is a writer on InterVarsity’s Editorial Team in Madison, Wisconsin. She enjoys long hikes, watching movies, and overly competitive game nights with friends. You can support her ministry at donate.intervarsity.org/donate#22836.
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