March 22, 2015

Abiding in the Vine

I am exhausted today. I woke up with a pounding headache and with this intense feeling of being unwell. I laid in bed for an extra hour, missing church again, but feeling as though I couldn't drag myself to get up and get dressed. I know I am tired, so very tired, but still I felt an extra measure of fatigue this morning. Sigh!

I have a lot on my plate today, but I am steadily working through my to-do tasks. I have a paper due tonight, and I need to write two more sections (about a couple paragraphs). I need to run it through Grammarly, but my hope is that I will have it finished, edited, and checked well in time for the due date (11:59 p.m. EST). This paper will satisfy assignment number 2 in my Advanced Theory class. It is a short critical review of a deeply dense and difficult book called, "The Social Construction of Reality: The Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge" by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1966). The book is a must read for most graduate students in Sociology and Communications (perhaps other disciplines too), but to say it is an easy read, well that is a major understatement! I struggled through the book, and then read about half-dozen scholarly articles and book reviews in order to help me make sense of it. Now, I have to write a 3-4 page review. Oh my goodness! Lord help me today, Lord help me today!

As I sat down to write this post, this verse popped into my head:

John 15:5 - "Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

If I needed to be reminded of my role in this social order (i.e., Berger and Luckmann), this verse is a good one to do that. It speaks volumes to me. Jesus is the Vine -- the source of all sustenance -- and I am merely a branch, lowly, yet connected to the central delivery system of the Vine. Curiously, the Vine doesn't produce fruit on itself, but rather, the Vine causes the fruit to blossom and grow on the branches. If you look at any grape vine, you will see this to be the case. The grapevine itself is woody and hardy. It has strong roots, and when trained properly, will splay out its branches to either side (like a man hanging on a cross). The fruit grows on the branches, and it is here that the Vinedresser tends to the needs of the branches. He will prune them, stake them, or pluck them at the right time in order for the branch to continue to bear plenty of fruit. The branch doesn't do anything to cause the fruit to grow. Nope, that is the work of the Vine and the Vinedresser.

I have been struggling a lot lately with "doing" the work the Lord has called me to do. I don't know why I do this, but I guess it is because I am a "Type A" personality, and I have this driving need to be in control. I also think it is my deep need to avoid failure, and that being in control, to my mind, is the sure-fire way to avoid failing at anything. Once you let go, let someone else control the details, well then, you are placing your trust and your faith for not failing in someone else's abilities and not in your own. I don't want to fail in my courses at Regent. I don't want to fail as a teacher, to let my students down. I don't want to fail my parents in their time of need. I don't want to fail as a Mom, and to see my son hurt or walking down the wrong path. All of these worries and concerns consume me, and at times, my heart and my head overflow with feelings of fear, of failure, and of faithlessness. Yes, I am a person who fears failure most of all, and the constant battle to achieve, to overcome, to endure, etc. is taking its toll on me physically. O, Lord, I need your great mercy this good day!

Why am I so afraid of failing?

According to Psychology Today, "The psychological toll of trying something new that might not work out has more to do with one’s personal demons than the prospect of measurable losses" ("Fear of Failure?," 2014). OH MY YES! This is a great read if you struggle with fear of failure like I do (see link here). I digress.

The author gets to the root of the problem quickly when he discusses what is called a logistical failure. Generally, the reason people fear failure is not the loss of tangible resources such as money, position, career, etc., but rather it is because failure reminds of us what it feels like to be "an inadequate, child-like or vulnerable self" (para. 9). He writes,

“If I try and don’t succeed, everyone will know I’m _____.”

You can fill in the blank with your own worst nightmare — stupid, weak, unworthy, etc.

Ouch, again!

This is exactly my problem. I can fill in that blank with the following words: stupid, unworthy, not good or smart enough. Yes! My childhood experience was that I was not smart enough or as good in school as my classmates (so said my teachers). Those childhood memories are still bitter to me, and while I think I have let them go, it is at times when I am pressured and pinched, that they seem to surface again. I begin to feel inadequate, and as a result, I strive to overcome through hard work, diligence, and effort.

The author cites that often our fear of failure stems from family values "gone wrong." These are values that in and of themselves are actually good, but when used in a negative way, can have dire effect on children growing up in the home. I relate to all of these values:
  1. Humility (You think you’re all that? You should be ashamed of yourself.)
  2. Security (A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.)
  3. Having it all together (If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t bother.)
  4. Being selfless (If you fail, you’ll have wasted precious resources on yourself.)
  5. Not taking more than your share (You should be happy with what you’ve got.)
  6. Hard work (If you fail, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough.)
  7. Perfection (You only get one shot at this. You’d better get it right!)
The author notes that the way to overcome fear of failure is to recognize where the fear comes from and then confess that you need help to let it go. When speaking about feeling unworthy or inadequate, he says, "The more you accept these feelings, the less they’ll control your behavior."

I realize that what I struggle with most is points 6 and 7. My father, whom I love, was the one who pounded both of these "values" into my head (my brother's heads as well). His need for hard work and perfection stemmed from his upbringing on the farm during the depression. Moreover, due to family trial, he was judged by his father and his step-mother in his work ethic, so he learned to work hard in order to overcome their feelings of rejection toward him. My father's work ethic was notable, and even now at 81, he still works hard and always produces near perfect work. Despite his physical limitations, he never gives up nor does he give in. He always works hard and overcomes whatever obstacle is in his way.

My problem, of course, is that I am not my father (nor my mother). I am me. God created me uniquely as His own creation, and He gave to me certain skills and abilities in order for me to do His work. I am part of the vine now, a branch that is producing good fruit, much good fruit. Yet, I struggle with being a "perfect branch," with always doing the right thing, working hard, and producing acceptable work. The issue is that as part of the vine, I am not able to produce good fruit without the Vinedressers help. I cannot do it, I cannot do it. I can try all I want to push out fruit, but it is not going to happen. I do not have within me the capability to create fruit. I can only let the fruit bud and blossom. I can only let nature (God) create the fruit, and bring it to fullness in His time.

Thus, as I consider this truth today, I am reminded that as a Child of God, I am responsible for what He has given to me, to do what He has empowered me and enabled me to do. This means that I must let Him do this work. I must not try to "push the fruit out," but rather, I must let God create the fruit in me. This way, I cannot take any glory in fruit bearing. God, alone, receives the Glory, for He is the great and almighty Vinedresser!

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