What exhausts you?

“People in a hurry never have time for recovery. Their minds have little time to meditate and pray so that problems can be put in perspective. In short, people in our age are showing signs of physiological disintegration because we are living at a pace that is too fast for our bodies.” — Archibald Hart in Adrenaline and Stress. Quoted by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (InterVarsity Press, 2005), italics in Calhoun.

This summer a mix of graduate students and medical students part of the Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine are digging into material from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun‘s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (InterVarsity Press, 2005) and Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (NavPress, 2007). Last week I had the opportunity to lead a discussion on the spiritual discipline of rest (Calhoun, 63-65).

First we read Psalm 62. Then we shared our understanding/definition for rest, with some focus upon campus context: a place of security where one can let their guard down and not be disrupted by the hard realities of graduate/professional school. I particularly appreciated the stories of finding rest by seeking the face of God during the exhausting times when trials came in waves encompassing the whole person, i.e., mental, spiritual, emotional, and spiritual. This is particularly challenging when there is a confluence of on/off-campus life (including family). Seeking the face of God included . . .

  • regular, personal time in the Word/prayer
  • ‘debriefing’ with close friends — keep an eye on the Spiritual Friendship series on the Emerging Scholars Network Facebook Wall.
  • a fellowship not only with others facing similar life/vocational struggles, but also hearing/interacting with mentors (those who have gone before them)
  • inter-generational local congregations.

Several gave particular emphasis to the rest found in the peace that one can’t do it all — a consideration of expectations and to some degree a rejection of perfectionism(!) — referencing Paul in II Corinthians 12.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. — II Corinthians 12:9-10

After digging into several reflection questions by Calhoun, we concluded by reading Psalm 63 and praying.

Bonus: Yes, one of Calhoun’s questions was What exhausts you or keeps you working past your limits? (65)

Based on our reading of Psalm 62 and Psalm 63, I added:

  • When working past your limits do you find your rest in God alone?
  • Do you cling to God as your rock and salvation?
  • Do you, as the woman the well, find Christ to be the living water in a dry and parched land (home, higher ed, community)?

Let’s end here for today and I’ll continue on this topic in a future post. In mean time, please share your responses to some/all of the questions offered in the post.

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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6 Comments

  • kennethdlitwak@gmail.com'
    Kenneth Litwak commented on June 17, 2013 Reply

    When I saw the title for this blog post, I knew I had to reply. I always have too much on my list, none of it bad, just too much. This has become critical in the last several weeks. The only way to get enough done is to skip sleep, which makes me more inefficient than ever, so that the harder I try, the slower I get and the more drained I feel. Now, I’m not just moaning in order to moan but to make a point that is relevant to “Emerging Scholars.” Some of us went to graduate school, hoping, if not expecting, to find a full-time teaching position, but when all was said and done (and I’ve done a lot of what you’re supposed to do to get hired, year after year after year), there is still no full-time teaching position. I need to be employed, and long ago I made a choice to learn and work in a field totally unrelated to my passion of studying and teaching biblical studies and biblical languages. This enables me to support my family (I never asked them to live in some tiny “married student housing”). I am a computer programmer, at a Christian university.

    Meanwhile, the things I’m interested in and am passionate about are totally unconnected to my day job and I don’t really have any co-workers with whom I can discuss my current research or a scholarly book I just read that was very good, because none of them have the necessary background or are “into” that. So, on top of my full-time job, I teach as an adjunct, some in-person, some online. I also teach in my church. For the last few weeks, I’ve worked 40 hours a week in IT, run off to teach a compressed Summer course for 4.5 hours two nights a week, and started teaching an online class for another school. ON top of that, I have a couple of book reviews that are overdue. So all I can do is skip sleeping because I’m trying to be like what I have never become: a full-time professor.

    It leads me to wonder if the correct response to not finding a full-time position as a professor is to give up my passion for my field. It’s going to be necessary for any Emerging scholar who does not find a full-time teaching job, I think, to figure out what a life not spent teaching will look like and just how much of the rest of life they are willing to give up after they have given up most of life while being a graduate student, in order to do at some level what you trained for. I haven’t figured out a “Christian” response that does not lead to exhaustion, but perhaps someone else out there has.. Tom??

    Ken

    • drandrewwalsh@gmail.com'
      Andy Walsh commented on June 17, 2013 Reply

      I suspect this question is relevant to many people, regardless of whether their “day job” is what they always planned on or not. Many of us have a range of passions that no single job or career could ever satisfy, and so we have to find multiple outlets for them. That inevitably leads to questions of balance & scheduling. For myself, I am fortunate that my current job utilizes some of my talents and provides an outlet for some of my interests, but I am currently wrestling with how to keep my remaining interests fed.

      For that, I offer the following thoughts I’ve found helpful recently:

      1) It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I can’t do everything all at once, but I’m realizing that I don’t have to. “To everything there is a season” – in your case, this may mean that at any given moment, you may or may not have the “teaching” slot filled in your life. But having seasons of “not teaching” in your life does not mean you are not a teacher. Your identity goes beyond your current circumstances.

      2) Add one thing at a time. It’s very easy to identify something that is missing in your life, and overcorrect by adding too much of it. It is exciting and gratifying at first, but at some point you become overextended. And then the tendency is to overcorrect again, and drop everything at once the way that you added it. If instead you add commitments one at a time, you can adjust to each addition, until you’ve reached the point where one more thing is one too many, and then it is easier to say ‘no’ to just that one thing.

  • colinredemer@gmail.com'
    Colin commented on June 18, 2013 Reply

    @Ken: I want to start by saying I am genuinely sorry to hear about your troubles. I’m currently (and proudly) and adjunct and have been for all 6 years post grad school. I know your pain. On top of this I live in the ridiculously expensive Bay Area, second only to Manhatten and Honolulu for cost of living. As a result I work a full-time job outside of my teaching while raising my son, being active in my church, and trying to continue developing as a scholar.

    That said (and I’m working on a blog post about this very topic) our current system of thinking that being a professor should lead to a comfortable and stable middle class life is very recent and obviously unsustainable. On a historic level colleges used to employ free celibate labor in the form of monks and when they did hire people they did it mostly on a part time basis for very little money. Yet teaching was still considered a luxurious life, not because of the pay but because there is something luxurious about getting to think, read, write, and talk for a living.

    Case in point C.S. Lewis (patron saint of adjunct professors in the humanities) was an adjunct for the first twenty-nine years of his career. Yes, that’s right, twenty-nine years. Well after he completed over a dozen books, many best sellers, many highly academic.

    His salary, which went virtually unchanged durring that time, in todays dollars, was about 30,000/year. A bit more with a housing allowance. And it was far from stable as he was moved into part-time work and a reduced salary durring WWII.

    I’m not trying to say suck it up, but no one is entitled to full time work doing exactly what they want and to get paid what they think they deserve.

    I’m not particularly gifted at counseling, but I do hope this adds some perspective.

  • esnkate@gmail.com'
    Kate Peterson commented on June 18, 2013 Reply

    The single most helpful principle I learned regarding rest and time management was by a professor I had at a Christian institution more than a decade ago: God gives each of us 24 hours every day, and 24 hours worth of things to fill it. If we’re rushed or stressed or not getting enough sleep, we’re probably putting time into something God hasn’t actually given us to do.

    Of course, I’m way better at preaching that than practicing that. And recently I have found myself quite stressed, to the point of letting my health and personal relationships slide. (I totally relate to Kenneth’s point about not getting enough sleep making me even LESS efficient in my work.) I’m enjoying using the summer for both physical and spiritual restoration, and hope to implement some practices to prevent that kind of stress from recurring in the fall.

    But I do have to laugh a bit at Kenneth’s dilemma. (I’m not laughing at you, Kenneth. It’s my own reaction that’s humorous, because everything you say makes sense.) He’s frustrated because he has a 40-hour-a-week job that prevents him from putting as much time as he likes into his “true” passions. And here I am, with a fulltime academic job, dreaming about a situation like his: his job is only 40 hours/week (I’m assuming.) And the rest of the time, he can research what he wants when he wants (or not if he has other things he wants to do), teach what and when he wants (or say no if it’s not convenient that semester, since he’s sure not doing it for the money!), spend as much time reading or reviewing books as he wants, even teach a class at church if he wants (I haven’t taught a class at church since 1998!). And it’s all between him and God. No boss reminding him to publish or perish. No colleagues expecting him to teach classes outside his field. And yet as a staff member at a university, he has all the resources available to faculty members – library, guest speakers, lunchtime conversations with smart people on interesting topics. Wow! That sounds ideal to me. I’m a bit envious. (Honestly, I’ve had more than one conversation with staff members at my university about the possibility of getting a fulltime staff job and adjuncting on the side, because it sounds so much less stressful that a tenure-track position.)

    So I hear you, Kenneth, but I wonder if it’s a matter of “the grass is always greener.” Or perhaps expectations that might not correspond to what God is calling you to at present? I’m not convinced that a tenure-track position would in fact be any easier. It sure doesn’t feel that way to me.

    Then again, until I learn to practice what I preach, I’m not sure I have the right to say anything…

  • hannaheag@comcast.net'
    Hannah Eagleson commented on June 20, 2013 Reply

    Kenneth, that sounds like a genuinely difficult place to be, where you feel like your day job and your callings are miles apart. Kate, tenure track sounds really stressful, too, though really worthwhile. I’m impressed by the fact that everyone who has posted here has made genuine sacrifices to pursue their callings.

    I decided not to pursue a tenure track job in my field of interest (English literature) when I finished the PhD, but I still wanted to pursue many of the vocations that would have been included in that life – teaching/mentoring, writing, reading, etc.

    One thing I found really helpful was to find smaller ways of doing similar things. I love to teach discussion classes, but I didn’t have time to prep a 3-day-a-week class while doing freelance harp work and writing a novel (what I chose to do instead for a while after I graduated). So I started a small discussion group once a month. It let me pursue that vocation, but without as much stress. I still found it pretty satisfying, even though I wasn’t leading discussions all the time.

  • kennethdlitwak@gmail.com'
    Kenneth Litwak commented on June 28, 2013 Reply

    This might be too late for anyone to see, but here goes. I appreciate the comments of others. A common theme in most of the other posts is the idea of God’s calling. I was taught as a new Christian that God has a perfect will for every believer’s life and you could “miss” God’s will. For exegetical and theological reasons, I now reject that completely for anything that goes beyond living for Jesus Christ and being conformed into his image.

    My plan in high school was to become a biochemist. Then I was converted and then I was taught the above bogus notion of God’s will. After that, I thought God had called me to teach the Bible, which I understood in career terms because I was looking for God’s will for my future career.
    Now, many years later, after doing all the things you’re supposed to do to get a full-time teaching position, So what does my current situation mean? It means that I need to cut out some things from life, but I have no sense that what I am doing in any area of life is what I’m “called” to do. I’m sure I am responsible to care for my family, rather than quit my day job, but I don’t know if that is a “calling.”

    The topic of calling is of course a crucial one for emerging scholars. Since what I thought I was called to do never happened, I can only conclude that my call was from my subconscious. When a chance to teach a class comes along, is that a “calling,” or really just an ordinary event i life? I have no idea. I guess I should qualify this by saying that I’m not an adherent of a view that everything that happens in my life was planned or predetermined by God. So I no longer have any idea if and when some opportunity that comes my way is a gift from God, or simply a good thing for which I can give thanks. I have no wisdom here, except that I am reticent to think that anything I do is intended by God.

    Of course, I would never presume to say that no one else is called to academia or anything else. I’m sure that Christian scholars are important, and I can easily see someone being called in that direction. I just don’t see it as operative in my situation.

    Ken

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