Monday, June 10, 2019

Pressure Points

Pressure Points, Shelby Abbott

Shelby Abbott has worked with college students in the US for nearly two decades, and so has seen up close the demands and stresses for young people at university, and is well placed to offer his advice and wisdom to young adults. In Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress, he identifies that:
“This season of life is uniquely stress-filled, and perhaps even more so than any other life stage because of the amount of decision-making that takes place in such a short period of time. Your decisions as a college student can and will shape your future reality, making college time potentially the most stressful of pressure cookers.”
And while the heart issues that face us remain the same throughout the ages, the variance of them is different today:
“Our modern age—saturated with technology, constant cynicism, streamlined digital communication, heavy negativity, relationship status posts, and instant information access—has shaped the way many young people deal with the pressure points of life. It has constructed a culture unlike anything we have ever seen or experienced—a culture that promises joyful connection via ever-present social networks, yet in reality is associated with depression, common mental problems, and socioemotional difficulties.”
This complexity can only be met with the gospel, and Abbott skilfully brings that to bear while covering numerous issues. The book is divided into three parts, starting with “The Pressure of Finding Purpose”.

He begins by considering “Does God even like me?” and concludes that yes, God loves us because he sent Jesus for us. I thought this was an interesting place to start, but it introduced the gospel well and also reaches to the heart of the reader and their sense of value. Following chapters address the questions:
  • How do I decide my life’s direction? Here he addresses biblically and sensibly the idea of calling: “My calling is not a specific task, but who I am in Christ.”
  • What does God want me to do? Rather than asking the question “What is God’s will for my life?” we should be asking, “How does my life fit into God’s will?”. This also included thinking about how to make decisions.
  • What does God want from me? Obedience through faith and repentance.
  • How do I handle the void? What are the escapes we use to fill the God-shaped void in our lives? What idols do we allow?

The second part addresses “The Pressure of Relationships”. Every single chapter in this chapter was wise and highly practical. Diving into dating relationships first, Abbott addresses two realities of modern romance: it’s physicality and its ambiguity, noting that hearts are being trampled in our current age of poor communication and high physical contact. He talks about parents and how to continue to relate well with them and honour them as you get older; he addresses friendships and what true friendship can look like, and how young people should view their church community:
“when you plug in and commit to become a member of a church, you’re not committing to a place, but a body of believers. And a body of believers is made up of people . . . and people are messy.”
He looks in detail at FOMO (fear of missing out) and what’s it’s doing to relationships:
“I think if we were shown all at once what an overabundance of technology and social media usage could lead to (e.g., constant FOMO, deterioration of authentic relationships, loss of social “skills, depression, anxiety, etc.), we’d recoil in revulsion… People are essentially medicating themselves with cell phone usage, trying to avoid any bit of being left out, even for a moment. They would rather risk their own lives by texting while driving than feel alone for even a second.”
The final section is “Pressure Because of Difficulty” and he wants students to consider issues around immediate success, spiritual warfare, peer evaluation and where Jesus is in hard times. Again, all very helpful and instructive.

The chapters are not long (the whole book is about 150 pages) and each concludes with three reflection questions for the reader to ponder and so would be excellent for a young adult to read on their own. However, there would also be real benefit to work through it with a mentor, providing opportunity to talk through issues and pray together. It is written with a North American college context in mind, but I thought much was applicable to the Australian university context as well. I immediately recommended it to my own husband for his work with university students and intend to give a copy to my son in two years when he begins university.

I’ll leave Abbott with the final say and words of wisdom:
“The gospel is the only true solution to our struggles. Cling to it in times of sadness, heartache, loneliness, hurt, and confusion. Cling to it in times of jubilation, zeal, comfort, fulfillment, exhilaration, and success. We need the gospel when things are horrible and we need the gospel when things are wonderful. He is the ultimate solution, regardless of the pressures you may be facing.”
I received an e-copy of this book from New Growth Press in exchange for an honest review.

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