Seasons of Life
Ecclesiastes is a sobering book. There really is a time for everything. One season of life lends itself to dancing and laughing, and the season directly following can be one of weeping and mourning. What changed between December and March? Looking back, we really can’t tell. Though hindsight is 20/20, circumstances still cloud our judgment and dirty our glasses. There were times when I was as motivated as Tony Robbins, and now, I feel as though my only motivation to get through the day is: “tonight, I will be in my own bed.” Stark contrast, I know. What was once an enchanted world, now looks more bleak. What was once something to be explored and leveraged, is left to rust. The Killers put this perfectly: “Back then this thing was running on momentum, love trust. That paradise is buried in the dust.”
What I’m going to write below isn’t primarily about me. Though, it is something I have experienced, thought much about, talked through with friends, prayed over, and sought counsel over. Writing this is merely an outlet for organized thoughts that may help those in the same boat. What I’m trying to do is process how to deal with disillusionment while in seminary, or any other type of higher theological education. It is as if the call to ministry has to be realized over and over again.
Perception and Phenomena
How do you take fairly sharp, competitive minds, move them away from their families, churches and close-knit communities, put them under an oppressive workload in an environment where their main source of affirmation is grades and feedback from professors–and then keep that boiling pot from festering a hyper-competitive, intellectual atmosphere that is decimating to the psyche? Moreover, how could that atmosphere then lend itself to training in godliness?
Note: this is not a criticism of WTS, nor any other seminary. Read: this is NOT a criticism of my school, your school, or any other school. It is merely a description of the phenomena. It is asking the questions I ask myself. It is, perhaps, a voice that gives encouragement to other voices. After all, we are in this together, whether you like it or not.
This ultimately leads to the question: Does seminary accomplish what it sets out to do? Some have argued, to some extent, that it does not. I do not know the answer to that question. It would be incredibly arrogant and pretentious to think I did. Nor will I offer any institutional advice or suggestions at this time. After all, how much does a 29-year-old, 1st year student at WTS really know? Perhaps, 1st-years, our reputation precedes us at this point. We ought to change that.
There’s a line in BBC’s rendition of War and Peace where Count Bezukhov makes a really profound statement. He says: “When our lives are knocked off course, we often imagine everything in them is lost.” Life is full of turns and seasons that do, in fact, cause us to question our identity, belonging, purpose, and whether any of this really matters. From our human human point of view, life sometimes seems like a path of endless confusion, despair, error, and discouragement. Some would call that life under the Sun.
These emotions are real. They are heavy. They are important. They ought not be overlooked, nor cast aside. They should be embraced.
If seminary has taught me anything thus far, it’s this. My faith will be tested. My resolve will be tested. My commitment and devotion to Christ will be tested. And, my commitment to the ministry as well.
Hope in the Strangest of Places
I mentioned earlier, though tongue in cheek, that we are in this together. My friends in seminary, my friends at church, my friends in PA, my friends in RI, the 4-5 year olds in my community group–we need each other. I know I missed some people in that rundown, you get a piece of the pie as well.
I’m the only single guy in my community group, surrounded by great families with young kids. It is now my job (whether real or perceived), at every community group, to round up the young boys and have a Royal-Rumble-esque cage match with them to tire them out before we begin our study. It’s the lot of them against me. Hardly a fair fight for the seminarian.
It is the precious interactions with the young kids at community group (who don’t have a care in the world whether Thomistic rationalism has a place in Reformed theology), the discussions with their mothers (who couldn’t care less whether the Mosaic Covenant is perhaps a republication of the covenant of works), the interactions with young people at our Monday night Bible study (where Van Til’s critique of Hegel’s idealism doesn’t keep them up at night)–they have helped put things in perspective.
We need sources of affirmation and community that go beyond what takes place in the seminary halls. A few concrete ones would be community group, church life, friends outside the intellectual and Christ in the bread and wine. In those contexts, I’m a beggar in need of grace. And if there’s anything Luther got right, it’s just that: “We are beggars, this is true.”
Please do not read this as if the sky is falling. Words written down often have a much more sobering effect than when spoken. If you were sitting in front of me, you would see that I am rather jovial. But that is because seasons do indeed come and go.