The road taken, but not quite yet.

A few weeks ago, while attempting to plan my classes for spring semester, I realized to my utter surprise that it is possible to graduate my Master of Divinity program in May.  Despite the fact that this is cause for celebration, especially considering that I may be the only person in the history of graduate school to accidentally graduate early, it is also an enormous source of stress.  You remember Peter Pan?  He didn’t want to grow up.  Well, I would in fact love to grow up, get a “real” job, do whatever in the ever-lovin’ world it is that God is calling me to be, but the possibility of ending this process is pretty scary.  Today at a retreat I took, a friend of mine talked about a book she recently read by Howard Thurman in which he talked about suffering.  Humans most often try to avoid suffering, which makes sense.  However, Thurman offers the thought that perhaps there are some aspects to suffering that are integral to what it means to be a full human.  It is nearly impossible to find freedom without it – periods of suffering and anxiety nearly always precede freedom.  Secondly, suffering creates growth, pushes us to be creative, adaptive, to change ourselves and our direction, to resist.  It hurts and isn’t to be sought, but once we’re in it, suffering tends to change us in some way, many times for the better if we can do the work necessary.  Finally, suffering simply is a part of life.  It is, it is, it simply is.  We’re human, we live in a fallen world, and because of it, we suffer.  Now, I’m badly mangling a deep and complex conversation, but I think it is what my friend told us next that is the most important part of Thurman’s argument: when we spend all of our time protecting ourselves from difficulty, suffering, challenge, and pain what we’re actually doing is cutting ourselves off from freedom, growth, and life.  Whoa. 

I am deeply sensitive to the fact that there are many kinds of suffering in this world, and some of them are both unavoidable and not at all our own fault.  Some of them are the work of other people, due to their sin and brokenness rather than ours.  But I think we can still view suffering from Thurman’s perspective, from the view of this theologian who broke through many barriers as an African-American pastor during the middle of the 20th century.  Even the stuff that scares us the most, that may hurt us the most, holds within it the possibility for growth, freedom, and joyful life, the life we’re made to lead.  How many of us are where we are today, doing work we love to do because of traumas or heartbreaks we’ve suffered?  The suffering wasn’t good in and of itself, but God helped us turn it into possibilities. 

With this conversation in mind, I’m thinking about graduation.  It would be (oh, so!) comfortable to simply stay in school.  I could get more degrees, go on to post-graduate work… school is fun, and challenging, and my natural habitat.  Honestly, I love it: the learning, the environment, the opportunities… and (when I’m really honest with myself) the fact that I don’t have to risk throwing myself into the world, not quite yet.  What was it Augustine said?  “Give me chastity and continence, Lord, but not yet”?  I feel as though I’m a bit like that cranky old saint, asking for the map to the path, the super-final-Big-Answers Path, but please, not quite yet.  Because to really commit to asking for the next step, to wait it out and be patient, to be willing to hear what the next direction is to be, means opening myself up to major anxiety, to suffering.  It means opening myself to not knowing, to changes I can’t control.  But it also means freedom, and it means life.  You can’t stay behind the Looking Glass forever (I am mixing my literary metaphors here, I know.  I wonder how Howard Thurman and Augustine would feel about being paired with Peter Pan and Alice). 

We all ask ourselves, and sometimes God, “What’s next for me?”  But I think that often, we don’t really want to hear the answer.  I wonder how many times I’ve asked that question and God has chuckled, saying, “She doesn’t really mean it.  I’ma gonna let her wait this one out until she’s really serious.”  Well, God, I’m serious this time.  I’m on-call and waiting for instructions, my ears and heart are open.  And can you send the info by May 15, 2009?

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3 Comments »

  1. Chrissy Joy Said:

    thank you.

  2. April Casperson Said:

    “…school is fun, and challenging, and my natural habitat.”

    Totally understand. And thanks for writing.

  3. April Blaine Said:

    Your friend sounds pretty amazing! 🙂
    (actually, I think it’s Howard Thurman who is amazing)
    Seriously… I love the last paragraph – do we really want to know the answer? I think I also find myself in that same space… not really wanting to know what is next… especially if it might involve suffering.
    God and I have been going back and forth on this for a long time now. And I’m wondering if God is thinking the same thing about me!… “I’m just going to wait until she’s serious!”
    I hope I can say that I am really open and ready at some point soon.
    (Although I think I’ll let you go first!) 🙂


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