Thursday, August 21, 2014

Things I've reflected on this summer, or ambition and discipleship (again)

Yesterday the Timehop app on my iPhone reminded me that I had published this blog post exactly three years ago. I almost didn't read it again, but when I did, I had to smile, and maybe tear up a little. It was both humbling and comforting to see how I keep circling back to the same questions, doubts, and struggles -- and how, having survived four years of graduate school, my overall longings and goals haven't altered much from what they were in 2011, or 2009.

For much of those four years (especially the past two, as this blog well attests), I've struggled to conform to specific expectations of what the patterns of my academic life should look like. The result was that I've spent most of the past two years feeling like a complete failure, and doubting the wisdom of pressing on with a task for which I could muster so little enthusiasm. I felt so much more useful, thus happier, when I was working on things I knew had a point -- as counter-intuitive as it might sound, even something as mundane as folding laundry. At least then I was achieving something concrete, contributing to the overall functioning of our home. I'll wait for you to roll your eyes if you need to -- it's just the truth.

What changed this summer is that I decided to just own the fact that, especially now that Kevin has a full-time job, taking care of things like dishes and laundry is a legitimate part of my daily work. That way, instead of using those things to procrastinate from my "real work" (and feeling half guilty and resentful all the while), I was finding ways to fit them into the natural pattern of my days. Acknowledging the existence of complementary callings -- academics and taking care of things at home (which is a privilege!) -- has helped me move from a rebellious attitude to a more contented and fulfilled one. Even if it means that my routine looks much different from that of most of my grad student peers, it's what finally seems to be working.

Again, it might sound backwards, but it's helping me be more productive, too. I miss the days when I could sit still and concentrate on studies for hours at a time, but that's just not where I am anymore (and why in the world would I expect the same study methods that worked for me at 15 to work at 31?!). I focus better on my writing when there are breaks throughout my day to focus wholeheartedly on very different activities. And, if I'm being honest, this approach better reflects the relative importance of academics at this stage of my life. It just can't have the same prominence in my daily life that it had when I was 23 and single, and that's okay. The dissertation will still get done.

So it's great that I'm finally realizing a perspective and working-from-home rhythm that are effective for me. But are you asking yourself what all this means for my long-term fitness for academia?  Because I sure am. And I don't have an easy answer right now. I think, for a long time, I couldn't countenance the possibility of giving up a traditional academic career, because it would mean that all my years of training, all that people had invested in me, had gone to waste. Kevin's new job has freed me up to think differently about that. I don't think for a moment that Kevin's historical training was a waste of time -- anyone who's acquainted with him knows that "historian" will always be a big part of who he is -- or that his new career in IT is any less worthy than a career in seminary teaching and ministry might have been. So why would I feel that there's shame in my not pursuing work as a professor (if indeed I decide not to)?  I guess there's still a lingering sense that, somehow, theologically-oriented "callings" are more special somehow, and that I need a formal title and position to justify the past decade of my life. But I don't think any of that is really logical, much less biblical.

There might also be guilt about the fact that we relocated to St. Louis so that I could have a shot at an academic career, so if I jettison that at this point, I'm afraid I'll be letting "everyone" down. But I don't think that's a right perspective, either. I am beginning to doubt that it's God's. At any rate, I don't think He planted us here for the sake of prioritizing one person's career over the other's (though I would honestly be more than thrilled if Kevin's career ends up being the bigger takeaway from our time here). Early on, I remember praying that whatever happened with our careers, we would be able to build a life in St. Louis, and that it could be home for us. I still pray for that -- and it seems to me that, for all the uncertainties remaining, the Lord has clearly been answering that prayer.

I remind myself, too, that maybe it isn't my business what God's intentions are, anyway! It's so easy to get myself tied up in knots over questions of vocation and identity, but that's a burden I've taken on myself, not something He has asked of me. It's my job to love Him and obey, one step at a time. Many times that's the hardest calling to hang onto, but it's the only one that promises peace.