January 13, 2015

Steadfast in the Lord

Merriam-Webster defines the word steadfast (adjective) as meaning "very devoted or loyal to a person, belief, or cause; not changing." Synonyms for steadfast include:

constant, dedicated, devoted, devout, down-the-line, fast, good, loyal, pious, staunch (also stanch), faithful, steady, true, true-blue

When I think of steadfastness (the state of being steadfast), I am reminded of Paul's commendation in 1 Corinthians 15,

"So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless."

This passage of scripture follows a long discussion by Paul as he exhorts the believers in Corinth to remain strong in the faith, in their belief in the resurrection from the dead. Apparently, there was false teaching at this time, and some believers were changing their minds regarding the Lord's resurrection, and believing instead that there was no life after death. Paul's cogent and logical argument "turns" on the death, burial, and resurrection of the the Lord Jesus Christ. He writes in verses 12-19,

"But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world."

Paul was putting forth an argument that singularly stressed the reason we endure in this life, the reason why we can remain stalwart and steadfast through trial, through temptation, and through testing -- is the belief that eternal life and the reward of eternal life -- far outweighs any present difficultly we may encounter. In verse 55, we read...
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory. O death, where is your sting?”

Today is one of those days for me. It is one of those days when I question why I am suffering, why I am struggling to overcome, and why I am feeling so depressed and dejected over the circumstances in my life. I know that I am tired, exhausted is a better word, and that I am struggling just to keep my eyes open so that I can focus on the tasks at hand. I do believe in faith that I am where the Lord wants me to be for now (at GCU, living in Phoenix, doing this work while I finish my studies at Regent). Yet, part of me cannot understand why it is so difficult for me to do the work I am doing. I mean, I am exhausted almost to the brink of not being able to function. My mind is numb. It is fuzzy, and I say things that make no sense. I feel at times as if I am losing my mind, as if I am incoherent and unable to make a worthy statement. How can this be? How can I function as a professor and a doctoral student with a mind that will not cooperate?

I am concerned, yes rightly concerned, about my abilities to present information to my students, to keep up with my assignments, and to accomplish the work I have to do each day. I don't know why I am struggling the way that I am or why it seems to be worse now than in previous months. My body is not necessarily tired. It is my eyes and my mind that seem to not be able to cooperate. In fact, I barely can wake up each morning. My eyes burn, they are red, and they are not able to focus clearly on what I need to do. Why is this? Is it allergies? Is it some other condition? I just do not know, I just do not know.

I have been thinking about my situation the past couple days. I have been wondering why I feel the way I do (physically), and why I am finding it so difficult to focus, to mentally connect, so to speak. As a doctoral student and teacher, I have to be "in the game" and I have to be able to present material to my students in a way that they understand. I am finding that I cannot do this well. By well, I mean with efficiency and with the expectancy that what I am presenting will be understood. I plan, I prepare, I test, and I try out various methods and means, and yet, nothing seems to work out for me. I feel as though I am pushing a heavy boulder up a hill, and with each push, that boulder slides back down upon me. I am wresting a major obstacle, and frankly, I am on the losing end of the stick.

My gut tells me that I am attempting to do something that is not in the Lord's will for my life. Yet, I know that this is not necessarily true. I am doing what I believe or have believed is the Lord's will for my life. I am doing what I have said is His provision for me. Still, I doubt the validity of that belief. Let me explain...

I have worked in four jobs since I found myself single in 2010. The first was a part-time stint in retail (at Macy's). The work was not difficult or challenging intellectually, but it was grueling physically. It was demanding, and it took a toll on my physical body. I was grateful for the job, and for the fact that it didn't conflict with my studies at Mercy College. I was able to work part-time for a year while I completed half of my MA in English Literature program.

The second job was working as an Enrollment advisor at UOPX. This job was challenging initially, and was mentally demanding. It was stressful and difficult, and clearly outside my "comfort zone." I was required to be on the phone 5-6 hours a day, and I had the added pressure of enrolling students (10 per month) into programs at the University. I did learn how to do this job, and I was successful at it. However, the fit was not good. It didn't align well with my personality (INTJ) nor did it suit my skills (analysis, problem-resolution, etc.) I was able to do this work with the Lord's help, and I did well while I was there, but the job itself took a toll on my mental capacity, on my ability to think (my mind was numbed by the constant robo-drills and voice mails).

The third job was the one I liked best, and seemed to fit me well. I worked at CVS for a year before I left to come over to GCU and teach adjunct courses. My role at CVS was as an analyst. I spent the majority of my time solving problems, and I worked with sets of data all day long. I liked the routine, and I enjoyed the quietness of my cubical. I interfaced with my colleagues, and I was integral in producing a good quality product. I felt valued and a part of the team. I didn't like the politics nor did I appreciate the management style and decisions that affected the work/life balance and the environment. But generally, I loved the work. I left this job because I felt that it would be impossible for me to handle doctoral classes and manage the work/life expectations. Plus, I struggled with the fact that I was getting a doctorate in Communication, but I was working in a non-academic field (non teaching).

The fourth job, and my current work, is as an adjunct professor at two Christian Universities. I am currently part-time only, and for now, the schedule and flexibility work well with my studies at Regent. I am also pursuing a career that aligns well with a PhD in Communication. For all intents and purposes, this job seems to match my academic pursuits well. I should be overjoyed, thrilled, and in love with the work. But in truth, I am not. I loathe it. I have not enjoyed teaching (some aspects yes, others no) since I started at GCU in 2013. In fact, I quit teaching for about 3 weeks while I took another job as a business analyst. I left that job and came back to GCU, bound and determined to make the most of the experience, before committing to this path. My heart struggles with teaching. I like parts of the teaching process. I like mentoring students, and I enjoy helping them learn. I do not like prepping for classes nor do I like presenting material in class. I would much prefer to work with students one-on-one and help them individually rather than be responsible for classroom content.

My issue with teaching is really this (in a nutshell):
  • Most teachers are extroverted, sensing types (ESFJ, ENFP). Most teachers are invigorated in the classroom. They are exciting to listen to, they engage their students, and they enjoy the interaction that takes place between teacher and student. In my case, I am INTJ -- introverted -- and that means that teaching doesn't invigorate me, it depletes me. I was OK when I had one class only. I was OK when I taught on MWF and had my TTH off. I am not OK teaching 3-4 classes, M-F. I am exhausted from standing up and emoting -- expressing myself.
  • Teaching is a discipline whereby the instructor is constantly being judged -- by students and by peers -- for academic success and integrity. Consider it this way, in your daily work whatever that may be -- how would you feel if you were being scrutinized, questioned, and evaluated at every turn?
  • Furthermore, there is no control in teaching. The instructor has no control over the outcome of the classroom or students learning experience. The teacher presents, engages, and attempts to instruct, but it is the responsibility of the student to learn. The teacher is then evaluated for effectiveness based on student outcomes. Yet, if the student didn't learn, didn't choose to learn, the teacher is placed at fault.
As I consider my gifts, my talents and my abilities (natural and supernatural), this is what I see. I am striving in a position that doesn't fit my profile well. I am a good teacher -- some students like my style, but many do not. I put a lot of effort into teaching, yet I feel that I am not able to do my best. I have friends who are teachers and they give me great comfort, they exhort and encourage me. Yet, they do not know what I feel inside or how I stress over the outcome. You see, the reason they do not see why I am so depressed and disappointed is because to them (most E's and some I's) the outcome doesn't really matter. They view the journey, the process as all important. 

The INTJ is rare. On the Myers-Briggs personality profile assessment scale, INTJ's account for less than 3% of the entire population. Moreover, female INTJ's are even more rare. INTJ's are outcome-oriented, solutions minded individuals, practical and pragmatic. A job worth doing is only valued by its successful outcome. Therefore, if success cannot be guaranteed, then there is no point in doing the job. You only do jobs that can be done completely, accurately, and with great efficiency.

Don't get me wrong -- INTJ's will work their little brains and butts off to figure out problems. They will go the distance, and in most cases, will not give up or give in. However, they will call it quits when they see the immovable obstacle after careful analysis of all possible ways to shift it.

I am in this place now. I feel as if my world is being squeezed tightly and I am facing the immovable obstacle without any hope of being able to overcome it.

I don't quit. I don't give up. I don't give in. But I also do not waste precious energy attempting the impossible. I am practical, afterall, and I realize that teaching is not my calling. I have never believed that it was, even when well-meaning friends and family told me how great a teacher I was, and how lucky my students are/were to have me in the classroom.

What does it mean to be called to some vocation?

This is a really good question to ask, and I think it is vital to probe it for understanding and clarity. I believe that the Lord has called me to a certain ministry. I believe that my communications study at Regent is part and parcel to my calling. I believe that I am designed specifically for this work, whatever that may be, and that my study at Regent is preparatory to my ability to do this work.

I do not believe that I am called to teach. I am teaching because it is something I can do part-time while I finish my studies. I think this is why I feel so lackluster about it, why I long to do more challenging (intellectually stimulating) work. Teaching is difficult. Teaching is challenging, but it is not the same thing as solving complex problems. It is not the same thing as constantly reviewing new content, analyzing it, studying it, and then synthesizing it for value, for optimization, and for potential outcomes. No, teaching is repetitive and it is boring (at times). The great gain in teaching is audience participation. But if you are not someone who feeds off of audience participation, then the boon of teaching is not there for you. There is no magic, no spark, no interest.

I consider my gifts as follows:
  • Administrative / Organization - this is a gift that clearly has presented itself over the course of my life. I am a planner, and I am excellent when it comes to administrating tasks, projects or programs. This is a natural fit for me, and I like to be in control of the product, the outcome.
  • Analysis / Evaluation - my ability to critically analyze situations, events or circumstances has always been a strong suit in work related environments. I am thorough and I am careful. I enjoy looking over data, charts, statistics, and then reading deeply to understand how and why things work.
  • Helping Others / Teaching Others - yes, I do have the ability to facilitate information. However, I prefer to facilitate and then let others learn on their own. My style is hands off, not hands on. The recent trend in teaching is student-centered, interactive, and engaging through technology. I simply struggle to engage students. If students want to discuss theoretical perspectives or the challenges of psychological or social impact of change in communication, I am right there. However, teaching perfunctory skills, while valuable, strains me at times.
So what does this mean for me? Why am I in a position where I feel that I am being constrained, and why can I not find good success?

I can remember asking the Lord to provide "good productive work" for me to do. I meant this sincerely. I wanted to find a good job that provided well for me and for my family. I wanted to go to work every day and enjoy the work itself. I wanted to work in an environment that was friendly, nice, and where I felt valued as important to the overall success of the team, the department, the company. I wasn't specific in the details, just that I wanted to be challenged (boredom kills me).

I think in each of the previous three jobs, I have found good success. Clearly, the hand of the Lord was upon me because I was able to produce good results. I received high marks from my peers and bosses, and I felt confident that I was doing a good job. Every day, I felt that I contributed to the successful outcome of the company goal, and that I was doing my best (and being rewarded for it).

I also felt as if the Lord was with me -- in a spiritual sense -- as if He was there guiding me and directing me, helping me to learn how to do the job, how to be successful in it. I also felt that my hand was blessed (so to speak) in that whatever I touched or seemed to touch produced a positive result. Yet, in teaching, since I started teaching, I have only felt hardship, difficulty, and overwhelming dread. I have not experienced that level of success, the feeling of producing good results, or of any measure of the Lord guiding me through the process. No, I have felt alone, very alone. I have also felt that I had to learn how to do this on my own. Now, I do believe the Lord has been with me. I do believe He has helped me, gave me direction, and guided me -- but not in the same way or measure. I have felt that this is something I have done on my own, but with the Lord's permission, if that makes sense.

In the former positions, the Lord clearly was active and present. In this one, it is as if He is watching me, telling me to rest or to trust Him, but I am solely responsible for the work. I am lifting that heavy rock all the while He is standing behind me saying "you can do it, you can do it." I cannot do it, clearly I cannot do it. At least, not anymore. I may have foolishly believed that I could do it, but now I have come squarely around to the fact that I cannot do this work, I cannot and I do not want to do this work.

Why, Lord? If this has been a test of my will, so be it. If this has been a test of my endurance, thank you. If this has been a test of my obedience and submission, I resign and I submit. Please help me to understand why I am beaten down and why I struggle so to overcome, to excel, to succeed?

I believe I know the answer, really I do. I believe that the answer is simple. I asked to teach, to become a teacher, and the Lord graciously allowed me to experience it. Yes, He gave me permission to do this thing so that I would "know" what it was like first hand. I asked to "try it out" so that I could make up my mind and decide whether or not this was a good fit for my skills, my abilities, and my gifts.

I do not recall the Lord and I discussing this matter and determining whether teaching would be a good fit for me. Perhaps we did, but I do recall a conversation whereby we discussed the type of position that best suited my nature was not teaching, per se. Yes, I do recall this clearly. I recall the Lord stressing that administrative/analytical work would always be my best fit.

So where do I go from here?

A couple things come to mind immediately. First off, I realize that teaching is a job, not a calling (for me, at the least). It is something I can do, but that I don't necessarily like to do. Furthermore, teaching fits my need for a flexible schedule at this point in my graduate studies. It gives me time to complete my own courses, and that is a good thing. Second, I am obligated to remain in higher education through the end of April. That is only four months from now, so not a lifetime commitment. Perhaps this is why the Lord brought me adjunct work and not full-time teaching work. Temporary means that there is freedom to try something new at the end of the contract. I am free to try something different, Lord willing, when the time comes. Third and last, I no longer see my PhD as being tied to any one type of career. I was stuck on the fact that my PhD would only mesh with teaching, but the Lord has consistently told me that my degree is for His work, and not to promote me into positions, etc. Thus, what I do at Regent is for the Lord. The work I do to provide for myself and my family is His provision. The two are not mutually exclusive no matter what other people think (or fail to understand). Therefore, my hearts desire is to let go of teaching as a profession. I believe it has been a good experience for me, a good experiment. I have great respect for teachers, especially those that are excellent in what they do. However, I realize that while some are called as excellent teachers, others, like myself, are called into excellence in academics, research and administration. Thus, I stop striving to become something I am not, and instead, I embrace the future of what the Lord has in mind for me, whatever that may be. I believe now that the Lord has been telling me to stop striving, to rest, and I have believed it meant for me to stop trying to control everything. I now see that His word to me was to stop trying to do something that I am not meant to do, to let it go, to let it rest. He can not move me into the position of His choosing until I allow Him to do so, until I let go of what I am currently doing.

Dear Lord,

I humbly confess that I may have this all wrong, that I may be off-the-mark on this point completely. I ask for mercy and for grace now to understand if I am on the right track or if I need to reverse my steps and head back to where you want me to be. There is part of me that feels very comfortable walking away from teaching as a profession, and that looks forward to doing something else. I have never felt at "home" in teaching. I have appreciate the work, the opportunity to mentor and to encourage, but I have never felt that teaching was "it" for me. It was good, it was practical, and it served a function and role in my life. I believe that you do have a job in mind for me, and it is a good fit for my skills, my abilities, and my gifts. I ask now that you move me, in your time, to that position whereby I can once again feel successful, feel challenged (intellectually) and feel as though I am seeing positive outcomes and results. I ask this now in Jesus Name, and I wait for your answer, knowing that this time, this final time, I will wait for you to deliver the promised reward. I will take nothing less than your best for me. Thank you, Lord. Thank you! Selah!

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