Daring to Hope, Longing for Revival—An Incoming Freshman’s Reflections
There’s no easy response to this. “I’m sorry” sounds forced. “Did you get good sleep?” sounds accusatory. No, there’s not a good response because wrapped up in “I’m tired,” uttered by so many of my high school classmates, is so much of who we are.
We’re tired because we stayed up late on our phones, because we couldn’t sleep, because we couldn’t stop worrying about our grades, because our parents pressured us too much to succeed, because our parents are stressed, because they’re losing their jobs, because there’s a virus killing millions of people across the globe.
How do you respond to that?
The high school Class of 2021—my class, the class entering college this fall—was sandwiched smack-dab in the middle of COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, we were juniors. I barely knew how to drive. What we thought was an extended spring break turned into our last two years of high school disrupted (perhaps the best word is ruined) by a virus we couldn’t control.
Senior year consisted of virtual proms, Google Calendar events, and the constant sense of burnout from months of listening to teachers drone on over Zoom. It was often difficult to tell if we dictated our online lives, or if our online lives dictated us. As I write this now, I’m an 18-year-old preparing to enter a world ravaged by climate change, a global pandemic, and political conflict.
Amidst all this pain, our deepest needs are revealed. The Class of 2021 is longing for summer after a long, lonely winter. We yearn to unify ourselves around a common goal. We pant for revival, to patch the lonely holes in our own hearts with real connection. And we itch for a chance to slow the pace of our frantic online lives and think, process, reflect.
Here’s what we need.
Social media is Gen Z’s cultural center. It’s where we go to express, to create, to entertain, to learn. Although apps like Instagram and TikTok may have a reputation of being pointless (I hear you, parents), many incredible campaigns have flourished in the grassroots network of stories, highlights, and posts. Earlier this year, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical (I know, it sounds absurd) raised $2 million for The Actors Fund, just one example of large-scale campaign building over social media. It’s hard to check my feeds nowadays without seeing friends calling others to join a cause of some kind.
Following an invitation from a friend, I worked at the polls for the presidential election last year. To my surprise, most of my fellow election officials weren’t elderly—quite the opposite. Our chief official (my boss) was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Seeing all the young faces around, wholly dedicated to helping people exercise their right to vote, further confirmed what I’d already been seeing: young people are searching for something to get behind.
Despite the varying shades of our opinions online, deep down, we’re all looking to mend the divisions in our broken society. Social media has allowed us to spread petitions, invitations, and campaigns further than ever before, and my fellow classmates and I want to continue that spirit of wide-scale unification for the gospel as we enter college. We yearn for both mega-events like worship nights but also micro-events like Bible study groups.
A fair disclaimer: as students, we need unification through positivity. The phrases we’ve heard so often from adults—“in these troubling times,” “in this difficult season,” “during these hard months,” etc.—have become wrung-out washcloths of insincere sympathy. We’re sick of everyone telling us that we’re resilient or that we’ve gone through so much. It’s true. But we’re ready to heal. We’re ready to dare to hope. And we want to belong to something radically larger than our insignificant little selves.
One of my favorite verses is Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
The past year has affected everyone in different ways, most of them for the worse. Mental battles are everywhere I turn. Sometimes I feel like my friends’ therapist with all the leaning on each other we’ve had to do throughout this season. National numbers tell the heartbreaking story—suicide rates and the loneliness epidemic continue to rise.
Yet in the face of so much despair, this verse maintains that by bearing one another’s struggles in love, we are fulfilling Christ’s commandments. The answer to collective brokenness is not ignorance of our problems but a mutual understanding of them, that we might support each other.
Real connection comes through vulnerability and honest reflection. Hearing people open up over the past year has been hard yet beautiful for me. I’ve begun to see the depth to struggles that are rarely shared but rest just below the surface of our collective conversations.
Above all, we need to talk. And listen. We don’t want to feel burdensome, but we also fear judgement of others. We miss genuine community. Whether it’s a basement or a cafeteria or a dorm room, we’re desperately searching for a space where we can simultaneously allow others to share and also be our own authentic selves, carrying each other’s emotional loads for God’s glory.
I’ve journaled a lot in the past year. Almost every day, I try to write about who I am, what I’m feeling, what’s happening. Without my trusty notebook, I wouldn’t be as competent or self-aware as I am today.
Too often, we fill our time with commitments—jobs, clubs, events, classes—and it’s easy to get caught up in the wild flow of college life without taking time to notice how our world is changing. It’s beyond valuable to have someone or something that you can process through your life with.
Reflection as a group can be a wonderful way to look back on our lives, but often it tends to push solitary reflection to the back burner, especially in college, an environment rife with social functions and pressure from friends to travel somewhere, do something, go have fun. Like I mentioned before, community and connection are essential to having a fulfilling college experience, but they’re not everything. I personally need time to myself to learn from what’s happening to me. And oftentimes, I need someone to tell me that I should do that.
These three themes undercut what I hope this year’s freshmen class will experience. I’d appreciate prayer for the beautiful, malleable souls of my classmates settling into their new dorm rooms as you read this post. Our class is thirsty for revival and renewal. And we’re daring to hope that it’s possible.
Phoebe Jeske is a recent high school graduate from Madison, Wisconsin. She is currently enrolled in a gap year discernment and leadership program through Wheaton College before planning to major in Business.
As we prepare for a new school year, I believe Jesus’ invitation for us is to see and care for these first-gen students’ unique experiences while also recognizing the agency and gifts they bring—to the campus, our ministries, the world, and the kingdom of God.