Spiritual Wellness: An Individualized Journey at Kettering College
These last few years have pushed and stretched us in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We’ve had things thrown at us that we had no preparation for. Now that we’re inching closer to the other side of COVID-19, we can look back and take a breath of relief. But in that same breath, we understand life in general is complicated even without a world pandemic.
We are humans who must find balance between who we are and who we strive to be; where we are, and where we wish we could be in life. Crises happen that are beyond our control. Relationships fail. Loved ones get sick. Daily obstacles challenge us, and often the only thing we have control over is how we react, cope and move forward, even when we don’t have answers.
Faith in a higher power is something many of us seek out to find peace and strength as we endure life’s stressors. For students who are often juggling work, family, and school, stress is a weight they have found to be difficult to carry on their own. On the faith-based campus of Kettering College, we believe open discussions about spiritual wellness are just as important as discussions about academic success.
Steve Carlson, MA is our campus ministries director. Among other things, part of his job is to sit with students and listen. When they ask to speak with him, he invites them to share whatever they feel they need to. Students reach out to him every day, and he considers this sacred work as he helps guide them to listen to what God might be doing in them. He acknowledges everyone’s faith journey is “super individualized.”
“We all process things differently, have different personalities and comfort levels.”
Coming to faith, growing in faith, or simply holding onto faith when it’s not easy is not a one-size-fits-all journey. Steve says, “Spiritual health is not an equation or a list that tells people what they need to do. It’s sitting with people in their unique, vulnerable moment.”
Although Kettering College is an Adventist institution, our students have a variety of faith backgrounds, but they feel comfortable talking to Steve about their spiritual questions. He meets them where they are on their spiritual paths, never pushing theology or making them feel ashamed for where they are in their faith or lack thereof.
He has spoken to students who have no faith, but they have asked to attend the Adventist church with him as they tried to figure out if having a faith community might be something they are looking for. Steve says, “I don’t bring them to convince them to believe what I believe, but so they can have a place where they can start processing their curiosity in faith.”
“We’re not talking theology—this is about how they authentically feel right now and honoring what they feel God is doing in their hearts, whatever that might be.”
There is no magic wand to wave to suddenly accomplish spiritual wellness. Steve encourages students to question their lives with the goal of taking steps towards their own understanding and action. He asks them:
- Are you finding things that fill your soul?
- Are you getting wrapped up in the world so much that you’re getting overwhelmed?
- Do you have a spiritual outlet—That doesn’t have to be church if that’s not where you are in life, but do you have people who point you towards a solid understanding of your morals and how they impact you?
- Do people challenge you and speak truth to you when you’re forgetting?
When COVID-19 came into our lives, most of us were forced to slow down. This slower pace has led us to examine our lives more closely. Steve has seen a trend of students who have begun to notice a spiritual deficit in their lives they hadn’t detected when life was moving fast. Some students have felt the nudge to connect with a faith community to help or to simply start asking questions in a safe space without judgement.
For some students who have an established faith, COVID-19 has forced them to “draw a much bigger circle for what spirituality looks like in their life,” says Steve. “They have begun to realize life is too short, and the checklist they had before is no longer enough.” Students such as this want to dig deeper and learn how to honor God in a much more deep, authentic way than just going through the motions they might have been doing on the surface before.
Steve notes that students –humans in general, really—only ever ask the big questions in life when they’re in a position that’s uncomfortable, and COVID-19 certainly delivered discomfort. When we’re in our comfort zone, we can whip right past the hard questions. Students in the past few years have begun to ask questions such as: What about my life am I proud of? What can I do to push me closer to who I want to be? What does my faith look like in a real tangible way?
Everything being shaken has caused people to reevaluate what spiritual health looks like for them in a way we might have been too busy or comfortable to notice before. Although he would never want COVID-19 to happen again, Steve admits he has experienced and witnessed spiritual growth as a result of people feeling forever changed.
“Sometimes the best things that happen to us are the most painful. So many of us, including myself, can never go back to the way things were before COVID-19, both good and bad. We’ll never look at the world the same again.”
Steve Carlson’s job is to listen as students tell him that life is hard. He doesn’t try to convince them otherwise—that would be a lie. He is open and honest with students who are overwhelmed and seeking a deeper faith, acknowledging this individualized, sacred journey. As he listens intently to students, he prays for God to work through his words and actions to help others uncover their own spirituality to nurture and grow far beyond the walls of Kettering College.
Are you a student or faculty member who would like to talk to Steve? Stop by his office or email him. He has proven time and time again, he is called to listen, lead, and empower others on their path to spiritual wellness.
About Kettering College
Kettering College is a fully accredited, coeducational college that specializes in health science education. A division of Kettering Health, the College is located on the Kettering Health Main campus in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, and is chartered by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Kettering College offers an Occupational Therapy Doctoral program, a Master of Physician Assistant, Bachelor and Associate of Science degrees, and certificate programs.
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