I just survived my first week of grad school. I’m not trying to be dramatic or anything – survived really does feel like the right word to use here. Two weeks ago I was dreaming of what it would be like when classes started. I pictured myself in an Argyle sweater with a thermos of English breakfast tea in my hand, walking across campus with fallen leaves on the ground and squirrels bounding through them in the crisp fall weather. I pictured myself taking notes in Systematic Theology 1 and debating hot topics in Ethics.
What I didn’t picture was every spare second of my life being crammed with studying, or this overwhelming sensation of being thoroughly humbled by my own incompetence and lack of coping skills. I think part of the difficulty is that I went from not having a very full schedule, and not being a student for over 3 years, to suddenly having a packed schedule and being in a rigorous graduate studies program. You know that illustration of desensitization, how if you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly heat it, he’ll think he’s relaxing in a Jacuzzi instead of being cooked to death? Well, there was no easing in process for me here – a pot of water was brought to a rolling boil and I was thrown in. Of course my first instinct would be to leap the hell out of that pot.
Sigh. You probably think you’ve read this before. You know why? Because this is what I always sound like after my first week in a new place! Expectations are unmet, I am face to face with all of my weaknesses and disturbing tendency toward anxiety-filled meltdowns. Then after a couple of weeks I settle in, find a routine, stop taking myself so seriously, and begin to love what I’m doing. For someone who continues to put herself in new, out-of-comfort-zone situations, I really have surprisingly poor coping skills.
Alas, alack, it is me in all my under-construction glory. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how the Scriptures say that as a father has compassion on his children, God has compassion on us – he remembers that we’re frail and weak and doesn’t despise us for it. This truth has been a sweet companion to me when I’m doing things like forgetting my shoes when I go to the Rose Bowl to go running. Even though I want to beat myself up about it, Jesus just kind of grins and says, “Well, that was funny. Let’s move on.” In the nicest possible way, of course.
So back to Fuller. Although busy and way more work than I anticipated, I think I’m going to love it here. My classes are so good, and I’m like on code red nerd alert because I’m finding it difficult to skim my texts because they are just so interesting. Hopefully that means I’m in the right place. Here are a few reflections/insights on my first days here:
What’s crazy is that some of the things I’m learning are completely different than what I learned at the bible college where I did my undergrad. I’m reading these texts that say, “For many years everyone thought this way on an issue, but now people are starting to think this way.” And I’m always in the old school of thought. Sometimes the new perspectives being taught are so different than anything I’ve known that I feel like there is this little man inside my mind pushing at its walls to expand it. Weird, but cool. A lot of people say that Fuller is super liberal, but I’m not afraid of that. I feel like being exposed to all these different views is causing my mind to be more pliable and stretchable – I want my mind and my belief system to be less like a metal box holding a bunch of set truths and more like a flexible, woven net that can hold all these new concepts like a bunch of slippery wriggling fish. Right?
All summer I’ve been like, oh I love theology so much and blah blah blah! But then last week I sat down with my theology textbook and thought, holy crap. This is tough. I’ve been watching theology as some type of beautiful dance, and sometimes I’ve swayed a little to the music, but never really gotten in there to learn with the dancers. And now here I am in a school of theology, and what’s made to look easy is turning out to be frustratingly full of complicated steps. That’s always how it is when you first learn a dance…I’m excited for the day that I know the steps and can enter in with my whole self, and enjoy the dance without clenched jaw and furrowed brow, and make it look easy to everyone else.
At the Festival of Beginnings chapel the other day, Fuller’s president, Dr. Mouw, quoted Simone Weil as saying, “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.” He said it’s a provocative quote, but I guess I like my quotes provocative because I loved it. It gave words to how I feel right now, standing on a hill about to run down into a valley of truth and knowledge and a lot of stuff mixed in. I’m not afraid of having my beliefs challenged or even flipped on their backs because in the past couple of years I have decided that everything will rest on one belief: that God is good, and faithful, and true. I do believe that in my search for truth, I’ve found Jesus; and in my search for God, I’ve found truth. I’ve experienced firsthand how truth brings freedom, so I say at the beginning of this adventure, with hope and joy: further up and further in!