Monday, March 18, 2013

State of the Dissertation update (March)

The last time I posted an update about my dissertation, things were a lot less settled than I had hoped they would be by that stage. Truth be told, they still are . . . hence the lack of updates. There have been several frustrating ups and downs even since the beginning of this semester. And now we're approaching the end of the semester with alarming speed.

The upshot is, I have about a month to finish writing my proposal draft. There's really no wiggle room on that. I have to complete it before the end of my third year. And after the draft is complete, I have to submit it and defend it before a committee of about five faculty members. This is frightening, because it's hard for me to imagine that I will be prepared to pass a rigorous oral defense in six weeks' time.

The good news is that I seem to have a better developed thesis than I did a few months ago. Also, one of my professors helped me break down the parts of my draft and assign due dates over the next several weeks, so that I have a path for getting the entire thing written and critiqued in an organized way.

I think it can be done. It does mean that I will have to work harder than I have done all year, basically. Because, truthfully, my brainpower, energy, and engagement with this project has been effectively halved since last summer; I've been aware all along that I am operating at half my capacity, at best. I'm not really able to account for that. I have some inklings about what's at the root of some of it, but I can't really explain it. Not that there would be an excuse, even if I could explain it. It doesn't change the fact that I have to get this done.

I'm praying that I will gain the physical energy to concentrate on this project, as well as the renewed sense of investment I need to really own it and have confidence in what I'm doing. Also faith that the Holy Spirit is supplying what I need through this process. Any piece of that would feel like a miracle at this point. I just want to do what I need to do in order to pass my defense, advance to candidacy, and begin actual writing. Less than two months, now, in which to pull that off.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Thoughts on turning 30

Today my pastor quoted from this 1889 sermon by Charles Spurgeon. I found this excerpt particularly resonant:

I would suggest to everyone here to cry to the Lord to make us conscious of our natural barrenness. Gracious ones, may the Lord make us mourn our comparative barrenness, even if we do bear some fruit. To feel quite satisfied with yourself is perilous: to feel that you are holy, and indeed that you are perfect, is to be on the brink of the pit of pride. If you hold your head so high, I am afraid you will strike it against the top of the doorway. If you walk on stilts, I fear you will fall. It is a safer thing to feel, "Lord, I do serve thee, and I am no deceiver. I do love thee; thou hast wrought the works of the Spirit in me. But alas! I am not what I want to be, I am not what I ought to be. I aspire to holiness: help me to attain it. Lord, I would lie in the very dust before thee to think that after being digged about and dunged, as I have been, I should bear such little fruit. I feel myself less than nothing. My cry is, "God be merciful to me."

I didn't have too many expectations of what turning 30 would be like. I don't think I expected the last bit of my 20s to feel so empty; so low on hope and direction. I can't pretend to understand what God might be doing in all of that. It does seem that He has been removing things that I have looked to for security and self-definition, and using that process to expose my sin and great need of Him. I know that is a gracious and grateful thing for Him to do. It isn't always easy to feel and acknowledge it as such.

My twenties were turbulent in some ways -- I guess that's not unusual -- and I'm experiencing something I might describe as introspection fatigue. The "who am I and what am I doing?" questions might be healthy for a time, but even though the answers seem far less resolved than I had hoped they would be at this age, I am weary of focusing on myself. I long to pour myself out, but at the same time, I'm becoming painfully aware of how empty I truly am. I don't know what's there for me to give.

The only cure for that I can think of, and the only goal I would dare to venture for the coming decade, is for Jesus to become greater before my sight, greater than my own troubled spirit. I hope and pray that as I become more fixed on Christ, His love would become so much more real to me that the identity questions, the insecurities and fears, would echo less and less insistently. Maybe then I can start to be freed up to love His people more and grow in the desire to serve His church. Would you pray this for me? I can't think of a better birthday gift.

I don't know what to expect in the coming years, except that I am certain there will be challenges; on my best days, I'm dazed by their number and scope. At those times, I can only pour out my anxiety and vexation to the Lord and ask Him to remember me. At such times, He mercifully reminds me of what He has done in the past. Today, for example, I spent my birthday going to church and hanging out with my husband. It hit me just how shocking those two things would have been to my twenty-year-old self, when I couldn't have wanted less to do with the church, and couldn't have fathomed that in a little more than five years, I'd have a husband. The Holy Spirit has been at work in me, in ways that have always been beyond my prediction and my petitions -- and He still is! Fed by that promise, I can go my way with a glad heart.