Saturday, August 20, 2011

ambition and discipleship

I am pretty much finished writing posts about the past ten years of my life -- and I know you've heard more introspection from me than you really need. But I came across these reflections I wrote two and a half years ago (so, about six months after I got married and had graduated from Yale) which still sum up my thoughts on my vocation as well as anything can. So I thought I'd excerpt them here:

January 24, 2009

I've been thinking that the last couple of years have been a long process of humbling for me, and while I'm trying not to be endlessly introspective about that, I have a lot to reassess. . .

In high school, for all my lack of confidence at times, I did swallow the message that I was "all that" in my field; some of it makes me laugh now--I remember a couple of the sweet nerdy guys in my graduating class asking me for my autograph, and my senior year English teacher half-jokingly told me that he expected to be buying the boxed set of my novels by the time I was 25! (Oops.) Then I got to Hollins, and it's not that I hated writing; it's just that I didn't do it anymore. The more self-conscious I became about writing as a craft, the less it felt like the passion it had once been. I found other things I loved, but I think I kept operating under the assumption that I would need to distinguish myself in order to have "succeeded" at those things. And I still carry that with me, kind of.

But honestly, after Yale, I'm not sure I have the drive or desire to be Ms. Fancy Famous Academic Theologian, either. There are a lot of brilliant thinkers out there, and I've lost--for the most part--the feeling of "needing" to be among the Names people know and discuss in intelligent circles. It would be nice I suppose, but then, I don't think the point of becoming a theologian, ESPECIALLY a historian of Christian thought, is to be "innovative." It will be fun to author a work of original scholarship if I survive to write a dissertation, but overall, I don't feel motivated by the push to produce something new and different. I don't think such a motivation is necessarily wrong. It's just not something that entices me.

I DO want to write. I trust that I have gifts that can be fruitful for the church. I guess for me, at this point, a Ph.D. feels like the next logical step and the path I've more or less locked myself into, but I think of it more as a means to an end than I used to. I want to learn to read texts deeply in order to teach others to treasure those texts and be equipped by them to abide in the Truth. That's all. I think it is terribly important work, that the church thirsts for tested, ancient wisdom, but I certainly think others can teach it just as ably, and far more so, than I could. It will be no disaster if I fail.

Truthfully, having kids is a bigger "ambition" for me right now, and I think about it at least as much as I think about going back to school. My current heroes are just as likely to be mommy-bloggers as academic theologians. I think I can end up being both, God willing. I think the twin "callings" can be complementary. Nothing in my short- or long-term "plans," such as they are, has really shifted. But if I look at my life in terms of discipleship and not mere ambition (again, not that the latter's bad), there are things that might well be more significant, eternally speaking, than where I get my Ph.D. Another way of looking at it is, how am I really going to learn to love well?


  1. Wow Sarah. Just Wow.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Again, thank you so much for articulating many of my own thoughts in ways I have a difficult time doing.

  4. Such a clear view into your heart. Thank you.

  5. I love this post. There's still time for all of that. I would love to go back to school, but it's exciting to think about all of the things that "I could be when I grow up." Even after you finish your grad school, there'll still be questions. There always are!