That group we call the “millennials” – the first generation to have had internet during their formative years – is reportedly the most studied generation ever. Those researchers who refer to them as the most diverse aggregation of young people so far also calls them the most stressed-out generation ever! What does that mean for the future health of this “most educated generation” to date?
According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America Survey, released earlier this year, the health effects of stress are a growing concern across this group of young adults. Their stress is causing not only irritability, anxiety and lack of motivation, it has also been linked to health problems.
At the same time, other reports indicate millennials are more likely than other generations to deal with stress using non-traditional methods….reportedly, twice as likely as other generations to meditate (commune with a higher power) to try to relieve stress.
While some are secular in their approach to meditation, many are seeking some sense of the Divine as a relief from stress. And, with college finals fast approaching and stress awareness month – April – upon us, many millennials could find relief from the pressures of their school or work day by communing with God.
Two studies from Pew and Carnegie affirm this. They concluded that millennials are “spiritual” but not “religious.” Carnegie finds that nearly six out of ten profess to have “talked to God” (spirituality) but that a far smaller percentage actually go to church, synagogue, temple, or mosque (religious).
As a faithful churchgoer, I wonder: do millennials need a church building to be able to talk to God? Apparently not, because when asked what has helped them grow their faith, among the most common responses was prayer and the Bible. Maybe they don’t see the need for a church as an institution. But they may find that when they are feeling especially stressed, they need a place to have quiet reflective moments with God and fellowship with others – some coming together to feel a sense of support and mutual caring.
More than ten years ago, Beloit College thought such a place was worth providing. They realized there was a keen interest in spiritual things – a kind of spiritual hunger amongst the students. They hired a spiritual advisor who promoted ecumenical tolerance. The result was the establishment of The Spirituality Room – intended to be a peaceful retreat for students, faculty, and staff to engage in quiet reflection, meditation or for spiritual gatherings. People could talk to God (whatever God meant to them) and could talk to one another, too. One student had this to say: “I started going through some really hard stuff. I would pray about it, meditate. It’s really useful and soothing.” She says she found college to be challenging, yet prayer made her decisions clearer. Another student, a resident of InterFaith house, loves how religion and spirituality are discussed on campus because they are an integral part of life and often positively impact important things like relationships and health.
The idea that it helps young people to commune with God during stressful times is obviously nothing new. Take the story of Joseph in the Bible – sold into slavery by envious brothers at the age of seventeen. Yet, time after time, he prayed, and then weathered the storms that came his way…betrayal, false accusations and imprisonment, to name just a few. For years, he continued on a rollercoaster of events that could certainly create all kinds of stress and emotions, but he talked to God about all of it. During all those ups and downs, Joseph continued to grow spiritually and went on to be given great power in the government that saved many people (including his brothers) from famine.
According to today’s standards, the Christian healer Mary Baker Eddy had a stressful life. She was a young, single mother with no income. She grew up in a devout, church-going home. Like many millennials of today who are thinking outside of a conventional religious box, Eddy was searching for spiritual solutions to both stresses and health problems. Similar to Joseph’s path, her spiritual journey – growing understanding of God – brought her freedom and led to a life of teaching and healing that freed thousands.
It’s encouraging that significant numbers of millennials consider themselves to be spiritual and desire to commune with God in their own ways and places. Communion – prayer and listening – leads to discovering God as ever-present, the source of all good and available to remedy the ill effects of everyday anxieties.