It’s hard to believe that my first Finals Week is almost upon me. It seems like it was just a few weeks ago I was tackling my first assignments. For the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on the astonishing new revelations I’ve experienced over the last twelve weeks. I’ve learned many concepts and details about the love of Christ that were unfamiliar to me. But along with this new knowledge about God, I’ve also had manifestations of self-examination that reveal my strengths and weaknesses, or as we call them in seminary… growth edges.
I know I’ve spoken of this in the past, but if I was forced to use one word to describe seminary it would be “transformational.” Everyone I had spoken to who has attended used this word in describing the experience, now I see what they meant. The first twelve weeks have fundamentally transformed my relationships with God and the people I call friends and family. Because I am more fully coming to understand how freely God loves me, I can more effectively embody that in my love for others.
Preparations for finals week at the graduate level, from what I can see so far, differs from that of the undergrad system that my daughter Isabel is experiencing. I don’t have facts to memorize; I have papers to write. Long papers… very long papers. I’m finding that the length of the papers is the biggest challenge, but probably not in the way you imagine. If I have a paper that is required to be 9-12 pages my difficulty is not getting at least nine pages, it’s keeping the paper under 12 pages. I have so much that I want to say about God that I find it difficult to be bound by maximum page lengths. I remarked to one of my professors that I needed to write a book.
None of this transformation has been easy. When is radical change ever easy? There are two things that have lessened the difficulty found in this process. First and foremost is my God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, has given me intelligence I do not possess. He has given me wisdom I have never had. Jesus has provided to me patience and a work ethic for my classwork that has not been demonstrated in my life to this point (though I have preached it to my children for years).
The other “thing” that has assisted me is the love and support of my friends and family. The biggest earthly support I have received is from my wife, Jennifer. She has carried the brunt of our daily activities on her shoulders. She has patiently accepted my late night study sessions. She has cooked the food, cleaned the house, completed the grocery shopping, helped with homework, and kept me in clean clothes mostly on her own. In the past, we have shared these responsibilities more equitably. She has even tolerated my reading to her passages from both my textbooks and additional research I do “on the side” for fun (who could have imagined that?). This is what she had to put up with last night:
“To be sure, though postmodernism claims to offer an imporvement over modernistic readings of humanity, it nevertheless continues with the same kind of reductionism and methodological hegemony that marked the logical positivists of the early twentieth century (Schlick and Carnap among them) and the radical scientific empiricists later on who, like B.F. Skinner, maintained that a human being is merely a repertoire of behavior and is, therefore, utterly explicable in terms of science in general and the environment in particular.” (from The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace by Dr. Kenneth J. Collins)
Catch all that? Now you see why I have a quickly expanding list of new vocabulary words contained within a notebook in my pocket!
My daughters Isabel and Emma have been a huge help as well. Isabel is kind enough to proofread her dad’s papers, though not so kind that she doesn’t end up putting red ink all over them! I suspect she’s enjoying repaying my years of editing her work. Emma is always quick to provide a hug and words of encouragement to me. At random times, she will just walk up and wrap her arms around me, and it just makes me melt.
To expand on the second “thing,” I’d like to add that my friends and supporters have been phenomenal in their inquiries about my well-being. Your questions and concern about my workload and life are very humbling to me as well as uplifting in my spiritual growth.
Classes officially end on December 18th, but preparations have already begun. Some of the multi-part finals that are required have already been completed. This weekend I will be working on the remainder of the assignments with the goal of having them submitted early while also completing the normal weekly assignments.
It may all sound overwhelming, but it isn’t. I am more relaxed now than I have been throughout this entire endeavor. I know that I am loved by God, by my wife, my children, my family, and my friends.
With God, all things are possible. Without Jesus, I would still be wandering in the wilderness of the world.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NRSV)