Seminary: The unexpected struggle.

In my last post on completing my seminary education, I discussed the thing that I valued the most about my MDiv education. Now, I turn to the unexpected struggle that I’m experiencing as a reaction to my years of study and living through a time of transition. This post is mostly written for me. It is a way to process out loud the hesitation I feel. I realize most of the hesitation comes from the hands-tied feeling of living through the isolation of the Covid pandemic. It helps to name the reluctance I feel as I work through how to use my seminary education.

I am afraid of getting something wrong.

Over the last ten years, I have revised my interpretation of the biblical texts on women. This came as a result of the cognitive dissonance I experienced between what I thought Scripture taught about the place of women and what I believed was the truth of Jesus’s teachings. In adjusting my interpretation of key “problem passages” about women, I was faced with the horrible possibility of my own continued delusion with everything regarding my faith. What else was I getting wrong? This is debilitating fear, is it not? It is a fear that I feel every time I broach a biblical topic. Am I really sure about this?

I can choose to let this fear keep me in a state of hesitation, or I can accept my own limitations. Frankly, it is the limitation of being human. I cannot know it all. I will always be wrong about something. Obtaining a level of knowledge or wisdom that will preclude me making a mistake is an illusion. Accepting my limitations is great for my humility, but I must also recognize my responsibility.

I think of the story Jesus told about the worthless servant in Matthew 25. I believe Jesus’ story was aimed at the Jewish people to warn them of the coming destruction of their way of life and the transition of God’s plan from the nation of Israel to the multi-cultural church. But, there is also a general principle for my life. When God gives something, he doesn’t want us to bury the gift in fear, but to use it. Even when it feels risky. Even when I could get it wrong. To be a person of faith, I must not bury God’s gift out of fear of making a mistake. I need to fulfill the responsibility of God’s gifting in my life, which is teaching others what God’s word means so their own faith can grow. Which leads me to my next struggle.

I’ve gotten used to listening, so now I’m wondering if I have something to say?

I have always been a person full of ideas and opinions. Too many opinions, I’ve often been told. But weirdly, the result of six years in academia is I don’t trust my own authority to voice those ideas. Academia enforces finding a higher source of knowledge to build your own thought upon. Detailing sources and finding the right author to base my opinion on is my habit. I even had a course on how to actively listen while keeping my own thoughts quiet. I’ve fallen into the habit of burying my voice with many excuses. Hasn’t everything already been said? What can I contribute? I know I have been gifted and called to teach God’s Word, but what do I have to say?

Transitioning from student to teacher, I have obtained a great deal of knowledge and self-awareness, but now I must press on to share that knowledge. In Romans 12:7, I hear Paul’s words being directed at me. He writes,

If your gift is teaching, then teach.

Gordon T. Smith writes this in his book Courage & Calling. “Not everyone has been called to teach. Not everyone has the ability that you have. Teach, for that is who God made you to be. You do not need to apologize or feel diminished by what you do not do. Rather, do what you are called to do” (pg. 71).” I must accept in obedience the responsibility to have something to say. As is written in Ecclesiastes, there is a proper time to listen, and a proper time to speak. It is time to transition from staying silent to speaking. But…

There is a lure to stay in research mode because it is hard to think.

I love books. I can read just about anything and can find interest in most topics. I read fast. I can dissect information quickly. But what I don’t do with speed… is think.

I am a very slow thinker.

To whittle a large chunk of thoughts and ideas down into an original and compelling form is very hard work. It is so tempting to simply disseminate another person’s work, to summarize what someone else has thought through. That requires thinking work, but not the really hard deliberate reasoning of working through my own ideas and shaping them into communication that will translate effectively to others. This is what I believe I am called to do at this moment of my life, but I am resisting because it is hard labor.

The word for my personal little pep talk on this resistance to the hard work of thinking, is persistence. Ecclesiastes 11:4 and 6 says,

The one watching the wind will never sow, nor will the one watching the clouds, reap. Sow your seed in the morning, and in the evening do not restrain your hand for you do not know which one will be successful, or if both of them will be good,

If I wait for the right time and circumstance to work at my ideas, I will never get them written down. I will never see a completed work. I must do the work regardless of favorable circumstances. Also, I must be persistent to keep on working at it. Consistent application of time dedicated to processing thoughts and writing may not lead to success, but it will increase the odds of bearing fruit, rather than overthinking my reticence to think. hah!

I realize my struggle in this time is not unique. Perhaps you may identify similar conflicts in your life? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

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