One of our members at ACG asked me this question recently because she’s been feeling guilty for sleeping through her alarm, especially during her exam period. She’s a overthinker, an overworker, and an overachiever. She’s busy juggling many different responsibilities in her life and she tends to sacrifice her health to prioritise her studies.
She is one of many people here who are committed to pursuing excellence in their studies. And she continues to place tremendous pressure on herself to perform and to be as productive as she possibly can.
So she’s asked me for advice and counsel and here’s my 2 cents on the matter. 8 things to reflect and chew on:
1. Firstly, God does call us into account on how we use our time on earth. He calls us to be stewards of our time, so He does want us to reflect hard on how we can use time as a precious resource to be doing activities that are worthwhile doing. There really are activities out there that are called “time-wasting” activities. We’ll need wisdom to discern which things in our schedules are worth doing in our time and which activities should we consider dropping. Biblical productivity and time management is not all about trying to be more efficient in doing things with your time; it is all about knowing what are the right things to do with our time.
2. I want to affirm that I think it’s great to want to continue finding ways to improve yourselves in all sorts of aspects. It’s a great mindset to have, because God has made you to be a busy person. He has made you to be a worker and so He calls you to produce fruit in whatever He calls you to do in your current stage in life. Right now, that means glorifying God by being the best student you can be.
3. Be the best student that God is calling you to be. Now you might be wondering, “what does it mean to be the best student for God?” It partly means: achieving excellence in all the subjects you’ve enrol in, but it means more than that. It can also mean:
- respecting your lecturers and tutors by attending class on time
- submitting your assignments on time
- loving and caring for your work colleagues in radical ways (especially during those team projects, where it’s very easy to dismiss and hate them for their lack of contribution in the team).
We should strive for excellence not only in our grades but also in our relationships and friendships with those who we are closely associated with within the context of our calling as a student!
4. You also need to remember that God has not just called you to be a student. You have multiple roles and responsibilities. You are a daughter, a beloved member of Gracepoint, a sister in ACG, a tutor at your workplace, a friend to many. God has called you to fulfill your responsibility in each of these roles (the term is called “vocation”). If you can’t study as much as you possibly can to because you need to either look after your mum, or because you are meeting with your spiritual sisters, there’s no reason to feel guilty. You are a student, but you are much more than a student.
A well-known pastor in the South-West region once told me some advice he received when he was a bible college student. He was told by one of his lecturers that “If you get straight A’s as a student, but you get F’s in the home, you aren’t glorifying God.”
5. You shouldn’t be motivated by guilt. Instead, rest on God’s grace to strengthen you, not on your guilt. God does not want you to live and work hard by drawing your strength from that negative pool of energy. It won’t sustain you and it will surely destroy you and your ability to find joy in life in the midst of busyness and fatigue.
Your mentality to “work as hard as you possibly can” can be symptomatic of a subconscious mindset that you are currently operating on – a sort of works-based righteousness. It’s the lie that tells us that “we need to be as productive and efficient as we possibly can… in order to earn our place in this world.”
And if we don’t work as hard as we possibly can, we feel like God is going to be disappointed with us. But that isn’t necessarily true. God actually treasures you; you are a beloved daughter to Him (1 John 3:1) and you don’t need to prove anything to Him and to others that you are valuable based on your productivity. Romans 8:1 says that those in Christ Jesus are now not under condemnation! You shouldn’t put yourself in a place of condemnation and guilt for failing to meet your own set of expectations on how you should be living your life!
Guilt can play a role in signalling to you whether you should be reminded to turn away from sin and from unhelpful and unproductive patterns of living… but beating yourself up every time you could have used this spare 2 hours “to be productive” is counterproductive in the long-term. Allow guilt to make us contemplate our wrongful decisions, but seek God and His forgiveness during times of sin and weakness. Then ask him for grace and strength to pull you through the busy days you have ahead of you.
6. You can learn to love yourself by resting more. If you know you tend to be an over-worker, this advice will apply to you (I personally wouldn’t encourage lazy people to rest more; they need to get off their bums and do something productive). Again, if you are aware of your circumstances and of your own fragility, there’s no need to be feeling guilty from sleeping through your alarm. I’ll give you an example.
If you woke up this morning 2 hours past your alarm, there’s got to be a reason for that—maybe you have been fatigued the entire week due to your heavy schedule. Your body must be telling you something along the lines of “give me a break please!”. If that’s the case, learn to love yourself and cherish the rest you received.
Psalm 127:2 teaches that you are human and you are not God, therefore you need your sleep. We have fragile bodies and we are bound to its inherent weaknesses. We cannot sleep super late and wake up super early – our bodies won’t allow us to do it and it will definitely let us know of it (especially if we’ve gotten into the naughty habit of doing so).
7. Don’t aim for a balanced life; recognise the tension you have to grapple with, as you seek to glorify God in all your responsibilities. Many people today would probably respond to you by advising you to find some work-life balance in your life. I’m not here to give you that bunch of baloney.
God has called us to live self-sacrificial lives; not to live balanced lives. As I previously mentioned, God has given us multiple responsibilities to juggle. For most Christian university students, this means they need to juggle (1) being a son or daughter, (2) being an integrated and committed member of their church, (3) being a university student, (4) caring for their own health. Those are at least 4 things there. If we are committed to living a balanced life, most would aim to compartmentalize their time and energy to each of these 4 respective areas: 25% of my time goes into the family, 25% goes to my church, 25% into my studies, 25% into my diet, exercise and sleep.
Bear in mind that I’m generalizing for the sake of making a point with simplicity with this example. If we are committed to glorifying God in all that we do (see 1 Cor. 15:31), we cannot adopt this work-life balance philosophy. We need to give 100% to our families, 100% to our church, 100% to our studies, and 100% to our health—all of which we are called to do in the recognition that we are limited by our human fragility and sin. This sounds very counter-cultural and bizarre, I know. But let me explain.
Basically, you and I know that there will be seasons of great busyness in our lives, so there will be times where we will need to pour extra time into ensuring that we’ve done our due diligence in fulfilling our responsibilities well (which will inevitably mean we would be neglecting our responsibilities in other areas). That is just the reality of life.
For example, if your parents become unwell, then for a season your priorities need to be re-shifted and you need to tend to their needs before your studies. It’d be irresponsible for you to continue carrying on with your regular activities with indifference throughout the week when you’ve neglected the changes that are happening in your family situations. You need to ensure you’re giving enough of your energy and attention to the people God has placed in your life.
Here’s another example. In certain seasons in the year, you’ve got mid-sems and finals—during those seasons, it’s expected of you to study harder during those weeks leading up to exam period (harder than previous weeks). If you’ve not made the adjustment to pour more time and energy to study and revise the content in order to sufficiently perform in your exams, that is also classified as negligence.
When you decide to life self-sacrificially during these times, you are going to find that nothing is going to be balanced… and that you’ve got control over nothing… and that is absolutely okay. Because it is impossible to pursue living a self-sacrificial life without drawing upon the power and grace of God, who has called you to live for Him. So I’ll end on this last point:
8. In all things, remember that you glorify God in all that you do. Don’t forget your relationship with God in the midst of your busyness. He’s meant to be the centre of your life. Trusting Him is our main priority in life. And interestingly enough, when we place God in the centre of our lives, everything is put into its right perspective. God will give you all that you need to carry through your day. Don’t neglect your Bible reading and prayer, just because you need extra time to study. God will refresh you with His words in your devotions, and that is what is going to carry you through your days of busyness and toil.