If you are Lutheran surely you are aware that we are [finally!] getting ready for Reformation Sunday. Again, as you surely know, this year it is an especially big deal, because the Lutheran Church [and others] around the world are commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation–anticipation has been building since last year at this time.
Now, I have to be honest; at this point in the commemoration, frankly, I’m a little “Reformation-ed out”—and I’m not the only one: many of us have been writing and speaking about what the Reformation means in a 21st century American context all year, and it seems that there is, perhaps, little more left to say.
And yet, I can’t escape the fact that the basic message of the Reformation continues to be profoundly relevant today, for all of us, but particularly for college students, with whom I now work, and whom I care about deeply. These students [high school students, too] are experiencing ever-increasing pressures to succeed, to excel, to be “good.” This article in The New York Times highlights these pressures, and emphasizes the growing number of college students suffering from anxiety: Anxiety and American Teenagers
In the hyper-competitive, highly demanding environment of college, where it seems that there is so much to prove, with so much at stake, the simple message of the Reformation can bring great comfort, I think, and open the way to different mode of being in the world—and a different mode of meaning-making.
The message of the Reformation is both plain and powerful: you are good enough, just as you are; without having to do anything, earn anything, win anything, you are beloved and treasured beyond all measure. Your self-worth and your value is not dependent on your grades, on your circle of friends, the number of clubs you are in, or the number of awards you bring home. You are unique, you are gifted, and you are enough.
And, of course, this is true for all of us type-A, driven adults as well, who get caught up in the idea that our self-worth is dependent upon our salary, the size of our church, the number of our publications, the number of hours we work, the appearance of our family, our knowledge–add your own particular stressor here.
So, what I continue to love about the gospel message of the Reformation is how freeing it is, and how it invites us to engage the world with joy and daring. What would we do if we could do whatever we wanted, without having to worry about what other people thought? What jobs would we take if we no longer cared about “moving up the ladder” or impressing our friends? What hobbies would we pursue if we followed our heart instead of trying to impress? Who would we spend time with, if we weren’t worried about other people’s opinions?
What would you do, if you weren’t afraid of failure? [This is a key question raised in the article–and it is profound.]
The message of grace and love we hear in the Reformation welcomes all of these questions, and encourages us to remember that already, without doing anything, we have been accepted; we are loved; and we are cherished. The world in all its possibilities is open to us.
You are good enough, just as you are. So, now what? In the words of Mary Oliver, what do you want to do with your one wild and precious life?