You stayed up late last night to finish a paper, so now you’re relying on caffeine to make it through the day. You’re stressed but your professors keep piling on the schoolwork. Like some mutant academic hydra, every time you cut down one assignment, two more grow up in its place.
High school was a grind. College is a new level of pressure. The expectations for achievement—get good grades, an internship, and a good job—seem impossibly high. Oh, and don’t forget these are the best years of your life!
The burden is overwhelming. No wonder there are so many self-care seminars advertised on the college message board. When you collapse into bed at the end of each day, your brain doesn’t have energy for much more than scrolling through TikTok.
Can We Escape Burnout?
In our modern world, we take on the impossible task of constructing our identity through our performance. It’s exhausting. Doing this, as Timothy Keller says, is incoherent, unstable, illusory, crushing, and excluding. The hustle is never enough.
But even if we recognize the Sisyphean treadmill and try to unsubscribe, we still live in a performance-oriented world. You might opt out of building your identity in academics, but your professors will still assign the same amount of homework. You can resist achievement culture all you want, but you still live in it. So, is there any hope of escaping burnout?
In our modern world, we take on the impossible task of constructing our identity through our performance.
In our culture, everyone assumes that you belong to yourself, and, in fact, you must make yourself. In his new book, You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World, Alan Noble finds the biblical alternative—one that is summarized in the first question and answer of the 1563 Heidelberg Catechism. That ancient doctrinal summary begins by asking, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” The answer is, “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”
This truth changes everything. Because we belong to God, Christians are graciously given a new identity in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). God gives us meaning, morality, and belonging. The gospel declares that our justification before God—the ground of our very worth and existence—also comes from God, not from our work (Rom. 4:4–5). God richly provides all we need.
Cultivating Faith in a Performance-Driven World
The answer to burnout is not another technique. You can’t optimize your way out of this inhuman world. But you can trust God to save you and all his people. Here are a few encouragements for how to cultivate that faith in the God to whom you belong:
1. Remember the gospel.
We are prone to forget the best news in the world. Jesus died for our sins, so we’re forgiven and loved. You are approved in Christ (Rom. 16:10), and you belong to the one who loved and gave himself for you (Gal. 2:20).
2. Recognize the narratives.
You’ll be shaped by ads and entertainment whether you realize it or not. So wake up! Recognize how you’re being influenced, and identify the false messages you’re tempted to believe. As 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
3. Resist the culture.
In the face of false narratives, resist. Daily immerse yourself in the Word. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).
4. Recommit to obedience.
We must obey Jesus’s radical call to discipleship: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). Obedience is costly, and it will feel strange. But if we belong to God, we must submit to his authority. God’s Word is clear in 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Your success in academics, sports, social media, romance, and career do not determine your worth. You belong to God.
The fact that we belong to God does not instantly release us from this inhuman, performance-driven world. The good news won’t rescue you from having to write that lab report. Recognizing cultural narratives won’t change your homework assignment’s due date. But it is where you’ll find lasting comfort in life and death.
Christian college student, you aren’t floundering on your own! Your success in academics, sports, social media, romance, and career do not determine your worth. God loved you enough to send Christ to rescue you and adopt you into his family. You belong to God.
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