The last thing I would advise anyone to do is what I did this semester—work thirty hours per week and take eight hours of classes simultaneously. I started working in the summer because we needed some extra money, and thought that I could keep at it during the fall semester while taking a few courses. While it certainly helped out our financial situation, I have lost many hours of sleep and dealt with more stress than I have ever had. Hindsight is always 20/20, as they say.
I would strongly encourage you not to do what I did. If you need to work a full-time job to make a bit of money, take a semester off, or at the most, only do one course. But if for some reason you want to try and do what I did, here are some things you must do to get yourself through:
- Spend more time in prayer and in the Word than you usually do. This is key. There were times I failed miserably at this, and other times when I was so burdened by all I had to do that I didn’t want to do anything but open the Bible and start reading. Predictably, those days where I failed were far more unproductive and stressful than those days I opted to spend time with God instead of studying. Without fail, He gives us strength when we seek Him.
- Make time for your spouse. If you are not married, you are at an advantage here. For those of us who are, however, taking on this kind of schedule puts a lot of stress on your marital relationship. There are times when you need to just forget about your work for a while and spend time with your spouse. You need it to keep that relationship healthy. For example, this past weekend we went away for a couple of days and I left all my work at home. It was great just to be with my wife and not think about school for a couple of days.
- Make time for friends. The temptation will be to shut yourself up in the library or in your office anytime you get a free moment. But it is important not to neglect the close relationships you have with friends either. Your friends are there to encourage and support you, and while they do that through prayer, they also do that by their presence. Take a couple hours off to get a cup of coffee with them and just enjoy their company and fellowship.
- Plan, plan, plan. Scheduling out the day has always been a weakness for me, and it really hurt me this semester. You need to learn to plan out your days and weeks (and stick to that plan!) so that you can systematically work through all the things you need to do. There is not a lot of buffer room. This becomes especially important if you take virtual/online classes where you are fully responsible for getting through all the recorded lectures, reading materials, and assignments. And of course, getting into the habit of planning things out is helpful preparation for your future ministry as well.
- Avoid over-committing yourself. Sometimes I have trouble saying “no,” but when you put yourself in this sort of situation you need to learn to do so. I involved myself in something at our church a few months ago, but after several weeks I realized that it was just too much and asked to bow out. Looking back, I should have declined from the outset. At any rate, in most cases there will be someone else in the church who can fill that role. We do not need to take on everything people ask us to do. While serving our various communities is part of our calling, our work and our schooling are part of our calling as well.
- Eat right and exercise. As simple as it sounds, it is true. When you put your body through a lot of stress, it is important that you maintain a healthy diet and stay active. Eat full meals, and take an evening walk (and if you take a walk with your spouse and you kill two birds with one stone). Don’t just live off coffee and fast food. If the stress doesn’t do you in, that will. Be sensible.
These are just a few of the things I encourage you to keep in mind if you take on this kind of schedule. Again, though, I strongly recommend that you do not. Learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before you! The seminary experience is too important to take on as just something you do on the side. It is a priority. Make the most of it by fully committing yourself to it.