The winter storm sweeping across the United States this week resulted in a snow day for my university. No classes--not even over Zoom. And the moment the news was announced, my peers began rejoicing for the unexpected break from activities.
Grateful posts flooded my social media feed and my friends living on campus recounted how students studying throughout university buildings burst into spontaneous applause when the highly anticipated email finally arrived in their inboxes. There was even some happy dancing happening in my apartment!
To say that the 2020-2021 academic year has been difficult for many Gen Z students would be an understatement. Many schools adopted an abbreviated semester with no breaks--and that’s if they even reconvened classes on campus. Showing up everyday from the heat of mid-August through Thanksgiving was like running a marathon without preparatory training. Burnout and exhaustion were common in my friend group prior to Christmas break. And many students returned to classes in the spring for another whirlwind semester--without a spring break or even an extended weekend to offer rest.
The work-oriented life I have personally been living this academic year--between senior projects, a full-time credit load, planning a wedding, and working several jobs--has had me thinking a lot about the place of rest, and the role of a biblical Sabbath, in the lives of Gen Z.
I’ve been struck by how often college students struggle to establish healthy patterns of work and rest. Between working to pay for school or have some spending money, completing homework assignments, exercising, spending time with friends, serving in their churches, and making time for activities they’re passionate about, it seems like there isn’t enough time in a day, a week, or even a month to do everything that needs to get done. Many people I know work and work and work until they can finally crash...and then they get up after the weekend to do it all over again with less energy and less joy than the week before.
It’s unsurprising that college students are one of the most stressed-out age groups. In 2019, the American Psychological Association reported that Gen Z was 27% more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor. And I’ve seen firsthand how the Gen Zers in my life struggle with anxiety, depression, stress, and loneliness.
Before mental health struggles were an issue for humanity, God established a pattern of work and rest as part of his good design (Gen. 2:2-3). Under the Mosaic Law, God commanded the Israelites to keep the Sabbath, a day of rest, holy and set apart as a sign of his covenant love for His people (Ex. 20:8-11). But what should have offered God’s people both freedom and the opportunity to thrive exposed their sinful hard-heartedness and pride; they missed the point and twisted the intent of the law (just look at the gospels to see how Jesus rebuked the Jewish religious leaders for their narrow understanding of the Sabbath).
And then Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, changed the way we view rest. Not only did he encourage his disciples to rest and withdrew himself from people at different points during his ministry to pray and fellowship with his father, but he healed people on the Sabbath (Mk. 6:30-32; Lk. 6:12). Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus made a way for us to have peace with God so that we might enter into his rest (Heb. 4:9-11).
I’ve come to learn that resting is a choice, an act of faith. Oftentimes it is a sacrifice of praise, an act of worship that costs us our pride and our self-sufficiency. Taking a break to Sabbath, whether in a weekly rhythm or on rare snow days, requires us to trust that God is sovereign--and confess in humility that we are not.
Gen Z needs to hear this. Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers need to hear this. The body of Christ, in all of her diversity, needs to hear this.
And our broken world needs to hear this: Rest is possible, and his name is Jesus.
As I sit in my apartment on this snowy evening, I am grateful that we can rest--from our physical work and from our spiritual striving--not because we have earned it and not because the busyness and stress of daily life stops to make room, but because Christ has taken our sins and made them as white as snow (Is. 1:18). It is settled; it is finished.
What a mercy that God grants us snow days and Sabbaths to remember this truth.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” -- Matthew 11:28-30
TESSA LANDRUM is a Kentucky Baptist who lives in Ashland and attends school at Cedarville University. She writes a monthly column for Kentucky Today from the Generation Z prospective.