We were in the middle of a staff retreat when the events related to the capital riots began to unfold. I noticed eyes were darting to phones and news alerts on screens as we worked through strategy and policy for the upcoming Covid-19 impacted semester. I, too, was distracted and finally stopped the planning to acknowledge what was happening. The meeting was with a group of professionals on the front lines of the student experience consistently navigating their own convictions and the diverse expressions of young adults. I anticipated the discourse would begin with anger or disappointment or fear as we processed in the real-time. Yet, although these feelings were certainly salient for most our team, it was the presence of a deep sense of Christian responsibility for our students that provided a glimpse of hope for the days ahead.
Stewardship of the next generation of thinkers and actors is always present at our institutions. How often, in the midst of our fears and disappointments and anger, do we allow those emotions to lead instead of our Christian faith? There are lots of opinions that masqueraded as certainty but, at least for me, at that moment I remained unsure of how to discuss what was unfolding.
So, in that moment of uncertainty, we choose to offer our presence to each other. We prayed for discernment in guiding the next generation of students with authenticity. I resolved to accept, even as someone who likes control, my powerlessness. Henri Nouwen articulates the spirit of this approach:
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.1
My hope for us all, in the midst of another challenging semester, is to offer our presence to our students as they return to campus. We will be tempted to quickly provide our opinions, answers, assessments, or knowledge to convince them to believe one way or another. Yet, in a generation flooded with quick solutions to complex problems, I am curious to see what would happen if we opened our hearts, shared our fears and pain, and offered a tender and loving hand to all. Our stewardship of this generation of students will be marked by how we model our response past and present. Do we have the courage to offer our presence, our true hearts, to our students? I believe that we can model a way forward that embodies the heart of Christ for our world and that is what the world needs now more than quick and easy answers.