Tag Archives: success

On worshipping false gods

1 Corinthians 13:1-10

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

Sonoran Desert.  Tucson, Arizona.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Sonoran Desert. Tucson, Arizona. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’ve heard these verses countless times–at weddings, from the pews, we even memorized them in Sunday school.  But I hardly noticed the clanging of my own symbol or the noise of my own gong  until the words were already out of my mouth, until it was too late.

I don’t think I’ve experienced such peer pressure since high school but I didn’t recognize it as such because I was in the company of adults.  The trite laughter at the expense of others, the insider-outsider politics, and the meanness of it all should have made it clear.

But I played along.  

I laughed with those mean-hearted academics, albeit with a sinking feeling in my stomach.  I became a clanging symbol, a noisy gong, a person I, myself, despised.

What I did that evening over a lovely dinner with not so lovely company is that I bowed before the god of knowledge, success, and reason rather than the wisdom of grace.  Feeling myself seduced by the grandeur of expertise and success I felt ugly, false, and fearful.  These are the feelings that make me question how I can ever live out this academic vocation while remaining true to a God of love and grace?

In sharing this crisis  with others around me, I’ve been reminded that while love, wisdom, and grace are certainly counter-cultural to the academic hustle-and-bustle, they’re not wholly absent.  As one of my colleagues pointed out, if we hate these types of dinner conversations, it’s up to this next generation of scholars to believe that there’s room enough for us all to be smart and succeed, and we don’t have to do it by stepping on one another to get there.  Success is also something that seemingly looms large and scarce, but as it turns out success can mean fulfillment, and fulfillment takes many forms.  There are also bullies like these everywhere, not only in academia.

The moon over the Catalinas.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The moon over the Catalinas. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I just don’t want to be one of them.

At the end of the day, I felt so blessed to come home to my husband and daughter and see that in spite of my antics that evening, their grace and God’s grace embraced me fully.  At that moment my efforts to fit in and be smart were a farce, and forgiveness made me feel low and humble, but fully at home and free.

The scripture above says that even knowledge will come to an end!  And when knowledge fades, it is only faith, hope, and love that remain.  I am inspired by this pursuit of knowledge in my life, but the other night was a good reminder that it should not consume me.  I will not be consumed by worshipping these false gods of knowledge, success, and self-aggrandizement.  Instead I will rejoice in worshipping a God who wants more for me and for all his children, a God whose grace is sufficient, a God whose love is everlasting.  I will struggle to be faithful and I will call myself blessed.



Will you let go?

We take God for granted.

We take it for granted that God is always standing there with arms wide open, poised and eager to receive our burdens.

Eager to receive our burdens.

Who in your life is truly eager to share your burdens?  Eager to gather all your hurt, your pain, your fears, your worries, shoulder them, carry them away, and all you need to do is let go?

But we don’t.

We cling.

We cling stubbornly to our ways.  We try to make it on our own.  The world feeds these desires, telling us that independence is the height of satisfaction and success.  That dependency, vulnerability, and weakness can be conquered if we just ignore them and push on.

But this type of pushing will drive you insane.

This type of pushing will deny you your true self, will keep you from honest relationships with others, and will keep you from a God who merely wants to share your burdens.

So try it this morning.

Try letting go.

Lamps in Istanbul.

Let God see your fears, your pain, and your hurt.  Let God walk alongside you, accompany you in the darkness.  And finally, let God take all those things to which you’ve been clinging and bear them, as Jesus did the cross, so that you can be free.

You may weep.  

You may weep because this type of grace does not come easy.  Not because God is not willing but because our flesh is weak.  You may weep because this grace is deeper, wider, bigger than the satisfaction we may feel at our own successes.  You may weep because to be in the presence of God is holy, astounding, and awe-inspiring.

You may weep because tomorrow God will be standing there once again with arms wide open, eager to receive our burdens.

Will you let go?


Redefining Success

It’s that time of year again–the time when seniors are applying to college, college graduates are applying to grad school, and grad students are applying for funding, jobs, and post-docs.  Anxiety and excitement are heightened during the fall as students everywhere are bent over applications and essays in coffee shops, burning the midnight oil.

This is what writing a dissertation looks like...fieldnotes and all!  My photo.
This is what writing a dissertation looks like…fieldnotes and all! My photo.

A few years ago, when I was applying to my own Ph.D. program, I learned some very important lessons about what it means to be seek success in academia, and I’ve tried to carry them with me ever since (I think these lessons are applicable to lots of other settings outside academia, too!).  However, especially during this season when we’re crafting resumes and cvs, cranking out cover letters and college essays, it’s really easy to fall into the trap of letting others or the perceptions we have of others define success for us.

I can tell you that what worked well for me last time, when I was sending out these applications into the unsteady universe of academic competition, was to envision success not as the result that came following the submission, but the process leading up to it.  

But even before I did that, I set up a plan that worked for me.

When I was applying to grad school, I was also graduating from seminary and planning a wedding, and it seemed like an almost insurmountable collision of due dates and life changes.  Still, my husband-to-be at the time had an ingenious idea: what if we devoted one day a week to wedding planning, resolving to leave all emails and phone calls and appointments to that day in order that it not take over our life?  I did a similar thing with my grad school applications: I set myself internal due dates, parsed the endless list of requirements for each school into tasks and began carving out specific time from my life to set toward the task.  This way I could be sure that getting into grad school, a goal of mine, was not a task rushed through with leftover time, but a task for which time had been budgeted and safeguarded.

Trees on a foggy day.  My photo.
Trees on a foggy day. My photo.

Next, I reached out to people in the university and the seminary for help.  When you’re applying to college or grad school, try to anchor yourself in an academic community, where you have access to computers, printers, copiers, libraries, etc.  Take your application essay to the writing center and early, so you can go multiple times and through multiple drafts.  Essentially, set yourself up to put the very best effort you can toward this important task and trust that that is half the battle!

Do you how many brilliant people mean to apply, but never get their act together to do so?  You’re ahead of all of them!

Finally, and this really is the key, imagine your success to be grounded in writing the best application essay possible, achieving the best test score possible, or  writing the cover letter that is most representative of who you are.  When I finished my application essay for grad school, it was a piece of writing that I was sincerely proud of–I felt it represented me well and fully as a scholar and person, and therefore, I knew that I had been successful in applying to grad school, no matter the results.  I did my best, I accepted it as my best, and I was fully satisfied with the efforts and the results–this is the feeling, the goal, you are striving for–not admission to one school or the other, which you can’t control, and really has nothing to do with the quality of the work you’ve produced–and it should stand apart and for itself!

Now, you might think this is all easy for me to say, because I did get accepted to graduate school, and I’ve had a very positive experience throughout my Ph.D. studies.  But I will tell you that when I applied to college, I applied to at least 12 schools, got admitted to 8, and rejected from 4. When I applied for my masters, I applied to 2 schools, and was accepted to both.  And when I applied to grad school, I applied to 4 schools, and got admitted to 1.  Clearly the most “successful” results were not my grad school applications, but I remember focusing so much on those 4 rejection letters the first time around!  I could hardly see the 8 acceptances for anything, because I was so focused on 4 rejection letters.  However, when I applied to Ph.D. programs, I got 3 rejection letters, which honestly, barely scathed me.  When I got the final call from Princeton, I was elated, but I really already felt successful–I had done everything I could do, and it was just a matter of whether I fit somewhere.

The last flowers of fall.  My photo.
The last flowers of fall. My photo.

I admit these things, because another myth that we all subscribe to is that highly successful people don’t have any setbacks or failures.  Doesn’t it make you think a bit differently about the folks in grad school when you consider that they were probably all rejected from more schools than they were accepted to?  Doesn’t it make you realize that the rejections are rather meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but the way you feel about yourself is key to your crafting a great application, doing a solid interview, or writing a confident cover letter?

Now at the time I had some other options besides grad school, and that helped.  And if your goal is graduate school at all costs, you’re better off applying to a range of schools where you could be happy.

But that doesn’t change the fact that when it comes down to it, all it takes is one.

I rarely think about those 3 rejection letters these days–I feel so certain that I’m where I’m meant to be, in fact, that I wouldn’t have been satisfied anywhere else, and I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s certainly a matter of perspective.  And that perspective remains a definition of success that is tailored to my achievement, my goals, and my efforts.  Who cares what anyone else does or thinks or achieves as long as you can grow to be satisfied and proud, no matter what, with who you are?

This isn’t just about feeling good, of course, it’s about working hard and long for the things that you care about and trusting your efforts in the process.  What if we believed that graduate school or college, like other pursuits, was as much about the destination, as the journey?  Maybe you’ll get rejected and you’ll have to go back and try again, but wouldn’t you much rather have given it your best?  And when you do get accepted, I hope you’ll add to this culture of redefining success, you’ll pass on not just your success stories, but your rejection stories to those around you, so we can see that we’re all in this together, that none of us is immune to failure and setbacks and heartache, but none of us is incapable of success either.