It was first year church history class at seminary, and I was sitting with my group preparing for a presentation. These were four of the most intelligent men and women I know, but in this moment was yet to befriend.
I sat quietly, sinking deeper in my seat as they began by going over what they already knew about the topic. Eventually, overcome by devastation at being totally outclassed, I burst into tears. Not a great moment for me, but one I will never forget, because it revealed to me how deeply I felt judged by my academic ability, or lack of it.
I came as a biggish fish from some smallish ponds, and it wasn’t until seminary that I was confronted by my academic inadequacies. It was there that I had to deal with the unhealthy ways I sought and held onto my identity.
Since then there have been moments of satisfaction at feeling superior in knowledge, times when I have fallen into judging spirituality in the culture I’m now in. I think in ugly frustration, “If only they knew what I know!”
There have also been many other moments of comparing myself and coming up short, all the more as babies seemed to suck my mental clarity, and as years of language and cultural incompetence hammered in the humility. It can be overwhelming to read what some people can fit in their day and still have intelligent thoughts.
In some of my low moments of intellectual insecurity I’ve wanted to say, “Don’t you realise I have the same degree as my husband!” In other moments I see what many friends are up to in their lives back in my home country, returning to successful professional careers after kids, and I feel I am getting left behind.
As I reflect on this predicament, I can see that I oscillate between ugly pride when I can grasp some sense of intellectual strength, enjoying it because it makes me feel better, and despair in moments of feeling so inferior for not knowing, not having read, not remembering.
In both cases sadly I am horribly self-absorbed! Chasing after the wind of human value when my Father says I am loved, I am enough and I am his.
It frustrates me that I keep losing sight of this, that I keep preferring to play the silly game of comparison instead of crawling onto the lap of my Father or stepping out confidently as belonging to the King, not in my own strength. I have realised that this is a topic that provokes me. Having recently enjoyed the Sensible Shoes series I am trying to “linger with that which provokes me”… not at all fun but very enlightening.
So I take all of my tiredness and desires to him, confessing all the pride, all the comparison, the shame, and the self absorption.
I do want to keep reading, I do want to challenge my mind, to contribute to intelligent thought on things that have eternal value… or at least I want to want to! But mostly, I have realised, I just want Jesus. And when I have my eyes on him, delightfully they are not on me or on anyone else. I want to be on the adventure that Jesus is inviting me to join him on, not to be enough, find security, validity or to develop myself. I only want to stretch myself for a greater capacity to enjoy our great God, and if he wants to use the product of that then I want to leave that up to him.
Have you thought about what might be lurking below your academic aspirations, or lack of them? Where does Jesus meet you as you ponder the answer?