Terry Cooper defines the idealized self as “an image of what we should be, must be or ought to be, in order to be acceptable.” He goes on, “[It] is born out of the imagination and is quite impossible to actualize. It is a romanticized portrait built on exaggerated self-expectations.”

my anxietiesIn a recent chapel message at Wheaton College, Dr. Anthony Bradley – Associate Professor of Theology at my alma mater, The King’s College in New York City – distills this idea and explains how the pressure of “the idealized self” crushes college students. Anxiety, perfectionism, and an overwhelming sense of inadequacy are endemic to college campuses today, Bradley says. In fact, he points out, the data show that there has likely never been a more cripplingly anxious college cohort in American history.

He goes on:

“The pressure you’re under to have the perfect life – the perfect grades, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect boyfriend, the perfect body, the perfect job, the perfect career, the perfect GPA – is causing people to be so anxious that counseling programs and centers on college campuses now are exploding with students banging on the door for help.”

His message is riddled with facts and figures that demonstrate that college students are suffocating like never before under the weight of what society, their friends, their families, their significant others, and their own inner-prosecutors demand they be or do in order to matter. Or, if not even to matter, in order to earn the air they breathe.

Nearly 16 percent of all college students in the United States – one out of six – report being diagnosed with or treated for anxiety, Bradley notes.

Excel, or die.

Bradley calls it, “The tyranny of ‘The Ought.’”

It’s easy to make the mistake, here, of adding on another achievement goal. Preachers and teachers in the church will often rightly acknowledge the sense of not-enoughness rampant among college students (and everyone else), and say in response, “You need to cling to Christ and he will make you enough!”

Did you catch it? “You need to do X, and if you do, Y will result.” Cling to Christ, and then he’ll make your feelings of inadequacy and shame and unsuccessfulness go away! Jesus will give you the rest and peace you’re looking for if you truly buckle down and submit to him.

But Bradley doesn’t do that. He doesn’t offer his listeners the law by another name.

Instead, he delivers a real, refreshing message. He reminds us of the words of Jesus: “do not be anxious about your life.” Why shouldn’t we be anxious? Not because, if you’re anxious, God won’t bless you. No, God has blessed you already. Being united to Christ, in and of itself, is what gives you everything you need to be adequate before God. Bradley assures us that we’re free to serve God and our neighbor because we couldn’t be any more loved or lovely – we couldn’t possibly be better – because Jesus was enough on our behalf.

In his excellent message of relief and rest, Bradley reminds us that, because the Lord is our shepherd, we lack nothing.

In other words, Anthony Bradley shared the gospel. “Jesus did not come to die for your dumb GPA,” he says.

Jesus came to die for you.

Spare half-an-hour. Watch the video. It will feed your soul.

But even if you don’t watch it, that’s okay. You’re still enough.