Academic Success, Security, and Standing on the Rock of God

handstand on Castle Rock

Standing on the rock may be hard enough. There’s no need to show off.

We received the following reflection from an ESN member, a young faculty member at a public research university, with the request to publish it anonymously. Have you experienced similar thoughts and feelings on your academic journey? Have you struggled with either confidence in yourself or reliance on God? If you would like to contribute to the Emerging Scholars Blog, anonymously or otherwise, contact me or Tom. ~ Mike

There was a time when the likelihood of getting published felt so small that every success felt like such a large dollop of God’s grace and provision. I remember the feeling of awe when I got an acceptance on the first try submitting to a highly regarded journal, something that almost never happens. My abilities were so fledgling that I knew that God had made a way for me to be competitive on the job market, with much abundance.

And then I got better at writing journal articles, more comfortable with the formats and formulas. I began to expect success, if not right off the bat, at least a pretty favorable R&R (“revise and resubmit”), which I would turn around into an eventual acceptance. My list of my publications grew, and people kept asking the secret to my productivity. “Just develop a thick skin for rejection and try to write every day,” I’d say with fake humility. Eventually after being rejected from several presses, my book got accepted. I knew it was a gift from God, but I also somewhat felt that I somehow deserved the success–its acceptance felt almost inevitable. I had revised the book so much through the stages of rejection that I knew that it was a much better manuscript and worthy to be published. So thanks God, but yeah, I really did work hard on that one.

But lately when I find myself ready to apply for a grant or fellowship, I don’t feel more confident in my abilities, but less confident. It’s somewhat ironic because as someone with a position at a top research institution with a decent list of publications, I’m a much more competitive candidate than I have ever been. I wonder where the uneasiness comes from. I’m guessing that it’s partially because I’ve been rejected for my fair share of grants and fellowships, and partially because deep down inside I feel insecure of whether I have “what it takes” to be a really good scholar.

So applying is scary, but in a weird way, it’s rejuvenating. It makes me desperate again, desperate to lean on God’s provision and not my own abilities, desperate to lean on the Spirit instead of the flesh, desperate for me to have confidence that my value is not in what I achieve but who I am as a child of God. That no matter how many rejections pile up in work or other areas of life, that my identity is secure and I stand on the rock of God. Easier said than done, but it’s my only hope, and a hope that does not change regardless of what life throws my way.

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An anonymous contributor to the Emerging Scholars Blog.

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    Joel commented on September 3, 2012 Reply

    I am now mid-career (I guess) and have been “successful” at publishing/grant writing/etc.

      Joel commented on September 3, 2012 Reply

      OK, I hit “enter” too soon…

      My point was that now that I have been somewhat successful I have become convinced that if God upholds me, I am upheld. If God does not, I am totally ruined. I have a more realistic appraisal of my talents now–I’m a B- or B at best. And yet I have somehow had enough success to get tenure, etc. I believe that the Christian faculty must rely on the Lord’s provision for professional successes. And the Lord upholds those who seek first the kingdom. That’s one of the most important concepts for faculty to understand–God knows we need publications and grants and teaching evaluations and tenure etc or we are fired or at least marginalized and unavailable to do His work in the University. Still, our first calling is to serve the Kingdom of God.

      Great reflection, anonymous!

    Andy Walsh commented on September 5, 2012 Reply

    When reflecting on topics like these, I can never manage to get very far away from questions about survival bias. To what extent does academic success represent being upheld by God, and to what extent do such articles only get written by those who have found success?

    Relatedly – if the publications and grants and so on are not forthcoming, is that God not upholding those efforts, is it a failure to persevere or cultivate the proper skills, or is it simply a system that relies on a certain amount of surplus effort to ensure quality? If God is not upholding one’s efforts – is that to teach greater faith, humility, patience or other virtues, or is it an invitation to join His efforts in another direction?

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