From the Basement

October 31, 2010

What is the life of the mind without the love of God?

There is a video that was posted on the lit forum at thegradcafe.com which I then shared with various friends. Entitled, “So you want to get a PhD in the Humanities,” it has been hailed as alternately funny and depressing by friends who are professors and grad students – depressing because it’s true. (http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7451115/)

The video isn’t what took the wind out of my sails this week, but it reminded me of the numerous doubts and thoughts that creep into my mind unguarded:

Do you think this is a good use of your time, doing research that no one cares about?

Academia is one of the most hostile environments for faith in the United States. Do you honestly think you can make a difference?

Won’t any impact you have be impeded by your own intellectual pride?

This isn’t a Christian pursuit – how does teaching about women’s writing in the 1790s further the cause of faith, exactly?

Not to mention the concerns over the fact that I’m in a dual-academic relationship, so we’re trying to get into schools in the same geographic area (easier said than done) and then, on the job market (provided the Lord allows), we’ll have to limit our choices in an already difficult market to places that are hiring in both Physics and English.

Then there’s the fact that the first application is due December 1st and my statement of purpose and writing sample have yet to be written.

And then, that several of my professors or friends who are professors or grad students are suffering severe disenchantment with the field.

And then there’s the cloud hanging over all of this, that I got across the board rejections last year.

My friends, it is very easy to become discouraged, but in times of discouragement, we must cling to His hope.

I was spilling my guts to God and partly trying to remind myself of why this is a godly pursuit, and the line came to me:

“What is the life of the mind without the love of God?”

My brain is obviously taking cues from the Think conference I attended earlier this month, but it is so very true. To the doubts that look to the disenchantment in the academia, especially in the humanities, that say it’s not worthwhile, that say that God could not place this desire on my heart – of course the life of the mind is painful WITHOUT the love of God! Knowledge and intellectualism do not satisfy. We are human. We fail. But when the pursuit of knowledge and – more importantly – ministry to those who pursue knowledge is buoyed and anchored by a passionate knowledge that I am loved by God, oh, the mighty things that can happen!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

I must remind myself, ever, that it is for His glory. I am aware of the danger in this pursuit, namely that it plays very close to a great weakness of mine, which is intellectual pride, but Lord, keep me humble. I pray for a passionate love for my future students, colleagues, and advisors –

My fiancé and I have often talked on how our hoped-for ministry as professors is sort of like going into the lion’s den. These are people who, for the most part, think they have life beat. They are the educated, the knowledgeable, the worldly wise, the philosophical elite who Paul tangoed with in Greece… they are the Seekers who have yet to find – who perhaps do not want to find. They turn down their nose at religion. Are there believers among college faculties? To be sure. But many of my closest advisors had a distaste for religion, especially Christianity, and of my peers… well, in college it’s cool to seek but not quite as cool to find.

I know that, should God choose to use my fiancé and I in this way, it would be powerful, and Abba, let it ever be for YOUR glory and not our own. That He chooses to use us in ways that magnify our gifts and give us great joy is truly beyond me. I remember hearing harsh scriptures or sermons as a child that had me convinced that God only used people who were in “Christian” careers. I thought, is it bad that I don’t want to be a missionary? It took me years to realize that He uses us where we’re at, in many, many careers “outside” official Christian ministry. That being a college professor, as a Christian, is your ministry. That teaching about women writers in the 1790s is a ministry!

We are all called to ministry in different ways. Writing is my primary calling, but I am inextricably drawn to academia, and I love to teach, and I see great opportunity, a great platform on which to build a ministry. Should God allow. I keep saying “should God allow” because this last year has been an exercise in being brought to my knees… he humbles us to draw us closer to him.

God has been putting this verse in my life through sermons and readings, and I want to share it:

Psalm 18:1-3: “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.”

And this verse:

Psalm 73:23-26,28: “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by your right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.”

We are called to place our hope in Him. To trust His plan. To know that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. To be assured beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is our Savior, our lover, our husband, our friend. He holds us. Even when we do not want to let him, he is still holding us.

In Angela Thomas’ Do You Know Who I Am?, she offers the following as exhortations to hope:

Hope ushers in the goodness of God: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” Lamentations 3:25

Hope gives us protection: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness.” Psalm 33:18

Hope gives us strength, courage, boldness: “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24

Hope gives us confidence for this life and our callings: “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” 1 Timothy 4:10

And in closing, she writes:

He is worthy.

He is your comfort.

He is the God who sees.

He does not grow weary.

He is your sufficiency.

He is your Savior.

He is here.

He is your strength.

He is generous.

He is your King and Father.

He is your Redeemer.

He is your hope.

He calls you His daughter and treats you as His own. (211)

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is Matthew 22:36-40: “ ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I love that. We are called to love God, and a means of loving God is using our minds. And then we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. And John 13:35 follows this line of thinking: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

Love is the mark of a Christian. Not what we do as a career, but what we do in the everyday minutiae: when you’re in the break room, when you’re in the hallway, when you’re greeting your co-workers in the morning.

A struggle for me is making plans for myself while knowing that God has “better.” I struggle and think, since I’m applying to grad school, does this mean I won’t get in? Am I pursuing the right plan? What if this isn’t what He has for me? And then I remember: he places desires on our hearts for a reason. He places people and situations in our lives for a reason. And sometimes what we think is “no” just means “not now.”

I don’t know how these next few months will turn out. But I know that my Abba is good. I know that he loves me. I know that to love Him is the greatest thing I can do in this life. I know that only by His enabling will I ever be able to love him and other people. And I pray for the grace to endure, to persist in that truth.

October 25, 2010

“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”: On Discouragement, Hope, & Faith

Discouragement can come out of nowhere. It’s a truly sneaky bastard. It can be a thought, a little thing, small and even funny from an outside perspective, but with what you’ve endured for the last few months, it can seem like the world is crumbling. Or it can be a shock that knocks you on your feet.

For me, it was realizing all the mistakes I made in two cover letters for jobs I want, for jobs that I have told God would be ideal. They’re teaching jobs, second semester replacements, and in light of a variety of things (including a one-line, incredibly rude response from an HR director at one of the schools), my confidence is in the toilet. And with it, my hope.

So often I lose hope the minute I doubt my own abilities or situation. And since I doubt my own abilities or situation a lot of the time, I seem to doubt my hope, as well.

I’m trying to figure out how to have hope and confidence in God while not having any in myself. I’m trying to figure out how people can survive ethnic genocide or sexual abuse or lose their husband while they’re pregnant or go through any number of horrific ordeals, and keep their hope in God. Or how my future in-laws, called to ministry in a dying church for 14 years, kept their hope. How my friend whose husband just lost his job is keeping her hope. How we keep our hope when life in all its ugly blackness happens.

One of my greatest abilities is to constantly be spinning possibilities. But it’s a double-edged sword, because sometimes, I get caught up in dwelling on the negative (“what if my fiancé died a few months into our marriage”, etc.). I lose sight of where I am, where God’s called me to be, and what he’s given me for today. I start doubting whether turning down that job was the right decision. I start wondering whether any plan I form for myself is a godly plan, since so few of them have worked out. I question whether God is just going to disregard everything I want and send me somewhere else.

Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” – is so tricky. I firmly believe that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, our desires become conformed to his heart and his desires for us. But that begs the question, how many of my desires are my own and how many are his? And what desires has he given us so that he can bring them about to his glory?

When I am lonely, when I am disappointed, when I think about the trials of others, my possibility-driven mind spins into a very human mode, pulling me deeper into the depths of sin, bringing me to doubt all of my choices, even the ones that were such good gifts from God (e.g. my relationship, my choice of college).

Today, my discouragement stems from both my job situation as well as worries about graduate school. But it is almost as if the Lord has surrounded me in memories of past mercies to comfort me – all day long, my thoughts have been turning to the Women of Faith “Over the Top” conference that the women’s bible study attended seven months ago in March.

Let me paint the scene for you: it was mid-March in the Midwest and I was barely two weeks away from finishing the last class of my undergraduate career. And the icing on the cake? I had received rejections from most grad programs by this point. Now, for those of you who are perhaps just tuning in to this blog now, that had been The Plan. (I hadn’t really talked to God about The Plan, which was to enroll in an English Ph.D. program). Well, by the time the conference rolled around, The Plan was crumbling before my eyes. This top of the class, triple major, summa cum laude, Honors in English academic all-star was officially plan-less.

I walked into that weekend knowing I wanted to meet God but also knowing that I didn’t really feel like a woman of great faith. I had the faith of a mustard seed… maybe half of a mustard seed. Suffice to say, I was definitely not in the mountain-moving mood.

Saturday morning, the girls and I headed to the convention center, coffee in hand, ready to worship and learn and laugh. And I had my game face on – “Okay, God. I’m here. What do you want from me?”

Sandi Patty was one of the morning speakers, and she came on stage and started singing the song “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Disney’s Cinderella. And I started to cry. My dream, I felt, was being crushed right before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it.

A dream is a wish your heart makes

When you’re fast asleep

In dreams, you will lose your heartaches

Whatever you wish for, you keep

Have faith in your dreams, and someday

Your rainbow will come smiling through

No matter how your heart is grieving,

If you keep on believing,

The dream that you wish will come true

As it turns out, her story of God’s “over the top” love was one of a dream denied and then a dream given. Her dream as a little girl was to sing at Disneyland. Once she was of age, she auditioned, and she waited for weeks to hear back. When she finally did hear back, it was that, while they had been impressed with her voice, they were unable to offer her a job because of her size. To say she was crushed was an understatement (her struggle with weight and body image is an enormous part of her testimony). She ended up going to college in the Midwest, and she gave music lessons on the side. As it turns out, some of her students were the children of Bill and Gloria Gaither (big gospel singers particularly famous during the ‘60s and ‘70s), and one day, Bill Gaither invited her to tour with them – and God used that start to take her dream further than she ever anticipated.

I just went and looked for my notes from the conference, and I didn’t write much down during her talk, except that she stressed how we are not enough… our abilities, our dreams are never enough – but He is enough. And sometimes, he says no to our dreams in order to say “yes” to the dream he has for us. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11).

That was a wonderful conference, but it is Sandi’s message that I’ve taken with me in my heart and treasured as a reminder of the Hope and Future he has for us.

She also performed this song at the conference, and today, it is renewing my hope and reminding me of the greatness of our God. I hope it encourages you, too.

(I love how you can see Mandisa praising and raising her hands along with Sandi!)

Praise to the Lord, the almighty

The King of Creation

O my soul, praise him, for he is thy help and salvation

All ye who hear, now to his temple draw near

Joining in glad adoration!

Praise to the Lord,

Who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth

Shelters thee under his wings

Yea, so gently sustaineth

Hast thou not seen?

How thy desires all have been

Granted in what he ordaineth

Praise to the Lord,

Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee

Surely his goodness and mercy daily attend thee

Ponder anew what the almighty can do

If with his love he befriend thee

Hallelujah, we will sing hallelujah!

Hallelujah, we will sing hallelujah!

Praise to the Lord,

O let all that is in me adore him!

All that hath life and breath,

Come now with praises before him!

Let the amen sound from his people again

Gladly forever adore him

We adore him

Gladly forever adore him

Gladly forever adore him

Praise to the Lord!

“The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to the one who seeks him.” – Lamentations 3:25

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

And the foundational verse of the “Over the Top” theme: “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God?” – Romans 11:3 (MSG)

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