I went to see Invictus last night. Good solid movie, nothing flashy, story simply told. Halfway through it, I realised it was a trojan horse (sneaky device to get inside at your vulnerable bits). The movie is the story of South Africa coming together over a rugby team and the leadership of Nelson Mandela who saw what could be instead of what was. The Springboks are the SA rugby team, not the best rugby team by any means, and they are painfully aware of it. But that doesn't seem to matter to Mandela. He does not see their dismal record; he sees an opportunity for the country to rally together and overcome their division.
I sat in the movie theatre and realised that I am all too aware of my limitations. I am only a timid, simple, fairly emotional and reactive woman who can't remember dates and facts very well because I live so much in the moment; I am often too slow to speak when it matters the most and too quick to voice my thoughts when I should keep quiet or at least think things through a bit more. I obsess about the small things and neglect the weighty stuff.
This week at school, I missed a vital component of an assignment for some reason (just didn't catch on clearly what was being asked for) and received some criticism from my professor. It caused me to wonder what I was doing in grad school if I couldn't even do an assignment right. And God showed me that I am afraid. I want to be in a situation where I shine and do well, but that is not greatness; that is just being comfortable. I am afraid of being in way over my head. I am afraid I don't have what it takes to measure up. I am afraid that I will disappoint those who have high hopes for me. I am afraid of being put in a situation of crisis or great responsibility where chances are, I will screw up at least a few times. I am afraid of having my weaknesses and unlearnedness exposed.
One of the reasons that I had decided to do a project instead of a thesis for my MA was because I want to do something practical with theology and not just have it be an intellectual exercise. However, last night I realised that another reason that I chose the project option is because I was afraid of the thesis. I find it easier to do a project because I do it every day - practice theology in the real world. It is something I am very comfortable with, something I know I can do. So last night, in the bathroom after the movie, I had a conversation that went something like this:
G: Why are you afraid to do a thesis?
M: Well, right now I am doubting my writing ability. I didn't do so well this week. I was told I still write like an undergrad.
G: So you have something to learn, then? Aren't you there to learn?
M: Yes, I am, but a project is just more me. A thesis seems a bit out of my league. I am not as clever and quick as a lot of these people. I don't know if I would do well.
G: So you want to be in an environment where you know the outcome, you know you will shine. A big fish in a little pond. You are afraid to try something great because you feel small.
M: Arggghghgh, yes I like to shine. Who doesn't? With a thesis, I don't know how I will do. I might stumble badly. I might be mediocre.
G: But even if you stumble, you would finish. Even if you didn't come away with an A and wow everyone, you would still have done it.
M: Okay, but I am also afraid of defending a thesis. I have heard some nightmare stories. It seems very stressful. I might not be able to answer all the questions they throw at me. I might freeze.
G: It all depends on the topic you pick. Here's what you do: you pick a topic that you are passionate about, that you love, that gets inside of you. Then you live with this topic for a year and let it become part of you and pour it out onto paper. Then you go in there and defend that sucker because you believe it. Are you afraid to defend something you believe in?
M: No, I mean yes, I mean I don't want to be.
G: You don't need a great mind. You need courage, little one.
This morning I read the story of Thomas Kelly, a devoted and studious philosopher, pastor, and scholar who wrote a doctoral dissertation and failed the oral exam because of a memory lapse. This resulted in a personal crisis out of which came a deep encounter with God. He changed his emphasis from straining and striving in his education and knowledge (a noisy inner workshop) to becoming a person who cultivated a holy sanctuary of adoration to God in the secret places of the heart (through surrender and listening).
I realise that I have defined success as doing well in school, being respected by my peers, and having the approval of my professors. It is an inadequate and hollow definition and will inevitably lead me to disappointment and questioning myself. I may or may not do well in all my scholastic endeavours and that's okay. There is something much greater at stake than a good GPA. Am I willing to put myself in the game, not because I am strong and know I can win, but because this life is much greater than me and my immediate results? Am I willing to stumble through in order to let something great be built in my home, my friendships, my family, my city, my country, my world? Yes, please give me the courage to say yes.
Let us explore together the secret of a deeper devotion, a more subterranean sanctuary of the soul, where the Light Within never fades, but burns, a perpetual Flame; where the wells of living water of divine revelation rise up continuously, day by day and hour by hour, steady and transfiguring. - Thomas Kelly
This is a photo of my guide to paper writing and my night light.