Sabbaticals create a crisis of identity for me. As you may already know, the halls of academia are filled with individuals who secretly believe they are frauds–that all others in the hall (teachers and students alike) should be there but we have somehow gotten in by faking our intelligence. For me: will I, have I produced enough to be a legitimate professor? Where are my many books? Why isn’t my vita longer? Where is my empirical research?
Truth is I’m not a researcher and at this point do not need to be one. My school seeks quality teachers who make important additions to the field (vs. primarily researchers who happen to teach).
But recently I had an aha about who I’m made to be. I had been struggling with writing a book proposal (which I hope will still succeed) and trying to evaluate whether I was making any discernible progress. I needed a coffee (okay, didn’t need but wanted) so walked out through the parking lot on my way to a local shop. In the parking lot was a friend on her way to help out some families in crisis. She stopped me and asked me if I could help her consider how to respond. Within minutes I gave her several ideas and steps on how to think about the issues and some direction as to where to lead the individuals involved. She was grateful and after scribbling on a napkin some ideas we parted ways.
As I walked to the shop I got the “aha.” I’m a purveyor of fine ideas–like the purveyor of fine coffees I was on my way to vist. I doubt I’m ever going to write that revolutionary text, develop a unique model of care, provide the statistical data to back up a theory, etc. But I’m relatively decent at collecting fine ideas that may not be so well-known to the community and giving them to people in useful bits. I think the Lord has given me the gift of discerning which biblical or psychological information might be useful and how the person in need might be able to use it.
So, I don’t make good things, I find good things and try to get them into the hands of folks who need it. Maybe that makes me less of a professor but I’m coming to terms with this.
And so with this aha I go back to my computer, flush with caffeine and some comfort that my life isn’t evaluated solely on this proposal I’m working on. Of course it doesn’t you say. But we humans need to be reminded of the truth every so often.
3 responses to “Identity: Purveying fine ideas”
Very vulnerable post…much appreciated! Sometimes I think a lot of us in the “people helping” field would rather be humiliatingly disrobed on a stage and laughed at by a cruel crowd, than be exposed as not having what it takes (intuition, spiritual perception, experience, training, broad reading, quick wit, etc.) to counsel or do therapy up to the expectations we think we’re being measured against. I don’t fit the traditional image of a “therapist” on so many levels, and I’m keenly aware of the pressure deep in my “flesh” to stay on a vigilant look out for new ways to “adorn” myself, so as to guarantee that I won’t be criticized or suspected of “fraud”. “Oh wretched man that I am”…and more clearly so after reading your post…something I needed today! Thanks, Phil.
I find this post fascinating since, as a college “drop-out”, I have told myself for years that if I only had finished, if I only had some letters after my name, I’d be more confident and people would take me more seriously. I have felt like a kid pressing her face against the glass of academia. I guess I always figured those of you with degrees had all the confidence to go with it. I find it ironic that a few posts ago you were talking about your anxiety in bringing home your newborn son. I bet today you would say that you are by far the best person in the world to raise your son, not because you’ve gained vast parenting knowledge, but because you know & love him more than anyone else in the world. I think that gives us a clue what really matters. Micah 6:8 is my favorite verse because it reminds me that it’s not about us. Humility when it comes to ourselves and confidence in who God is. As Jesus taught, it all comes down to loving God & loving others. If that is permeating all we do, then that is truly success. Of course, I’d still really like to have those letters after my name…
If our God chooses to work through the weak in order to confound and overturn the strong; if His work in us is what fits us to “do His work”, and we are not to worry about what to say; then perhaps the more we are unready in ourselves (not through sloth, but through crying out “who is sufficient for these things?” in truth), we are prepared, without letters or accolades. If you want to be great in God’s kingdom…even a challenged adult, or a child, or an illiterate African auntie can be a servant to all.