On Turning Forty: Back in

There’s a peace that comes with surrendering. Believe me, I’ve pushed back on that idea for most of my life. Everything I had been taught pushed me to question. To demand evidence. To require definitive answers. Theology is the wrong subject to go into if you simply want to be an academic. If you don’t want your soul or your emotions involved in what you do for a living, don’t pick theology. You can’t hide.

In the past fifteen years, I have completed three masters degrees and started three doctorates. I have taught at four universities/colleges and worked as a youth pastor, a pulpit supply, and a stated supply (Presbyterian for “permanent but paid like the help”). I have applied to ten doctoral programs, and been accepted to six. I don’t state this as a matter of pride. Not at all. Look at the hot mess that is that CV. I’m like whiny Luke in the Degoba System. “All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was… what he was doing.”

I left the classroom two years ago. My Visiting Professorship was up; I was feeling wounded and pouty about having to return to adjuncting, and frankly, I was burned out. There is a certain type of madness that comes with adjuncting at two univiersities teaching five classes total while finishing a graduate degree. I did it twice. By the time I was finishing up my M.Div., I had not updated my class materials in nearly three years because I was so burned out trying to get a leg up to get into a PhD program that would pay for itself, I sacrificed just about everything. The last semester I taught I was awful. I was also having problems in my family relationships. My health was suffering. My sanity was slipping.

Bipolar does some amazing things. If I can harness a mania, I’m a beast of productivity. But bipolar will kill you. Legit, no playin’, fuck you up kill you. Leaving teaching was the first sign, in retrospect, that I was on an unsustainable path.

I tried a new identity as a campus minister and I met some amazing people who I value and cherish, but it was not my calling. That was tough to take. I believed in the mission and I was inspired by the educators. But it just didn’t work. And my brain finally had enough. Full system shut down commenced. I had a nervous breakdown. I was able to get to the church on Sundays, but the rest of the week I was in bed. I was broken. I quit my campus ministry position. With it, I committed us to financial poverty.

For the second time in my life, God was revealed to me through difficult circumstances. The first, of course, was Stephen’s death; the second, my own dance with madness. Had I lived at another time; if I did not have a certain security net provided by my family; if I had not won the genetic lottery in terms of when and where and how I was brought to this earth, I don’t know if I would have recovered from that experience.

I surrendered. I said, God, I am tired of making plans that blow up in my face.

“So don’t.”

This doesn’t mean that I am passive, or that I do not have goals and aspirations. Not at all. Spend five minutes with me and you’ll learn that I am a go-getter and I like to try to make things better. But I don’t have to go out looking for problems or places to serve. God is presenting them to me in good time and for good reasons. Sure, I fret about money but thankfully Jesus said a whole lot about that and I have his words to assure me. I am following God’s lead.

I was back in the classroom this week.

stewie

I’m no longer an academic. Not the way that I imagined myself. I’m a preacher and teacher of the Word. I am a teacher of history and religion; a pastoral theologian and a servant to God’s people. And if you’re wondering if you’re God’s people, let me assure you that you are. And I can’t know God fully without getting to know you. I think that’s pretty cool.

I’m back up to full speed and I know that there are some nervous people. I get it. I really do. I know that there is a danger of overloading myself. Believe me, I have contingency plans. I always have a plan. It is what I do. But I can tell you this: I don’t dread waking up in the morning. I am not having anxiety attacks about upcoming events, and even when I have full days, I pretty much go at a pace that works for me, and right now it also gets stuff done.

I can’t explain why I have been able to come back from the brink and others have not. I can also safely say that there are people who go through much, much more than do I and they bear it all and continue to be reliable, strong people. I don’t always understand how grace works in other people’s lives, but I see it so clearly in my own. In the end, that is all I can affirm. I’m not making this stuff up. At least, I don’t think so. If I am, that’s okay, too. I like me having surrendered completely to God. This feeling that I will be shown what I am meant to do is working thus far. For that, I am grateful. And let the people of the Church say,

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