Note: This is post is really therapy for me. It’s something that I need to write and say before it starts eating away at me.My time in seminary is coming to an end. As I look back over the 6 years I’ve spent earning this degree I’m not sure how to describe them. Would I describe them as good? Well that depends how you define good. If you mean “pleasant,” then my answer would be a resounding NO. I don’t think I’ll ever find myself looking back on these years and think, “Man, that was so much fun, I wish I had the opportunity to do it over again. Sure there were some tough times, but overall it was an enjoyable experience.”
However, I wouldn’t describe them as bad either; I did finish after all. No I think I would describe them as somewhere in between good and bad, if such a middle ground exists. This verse is a good description I think:
The LORD has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
— Ps 118:18
The imagery in Psalm 118 is the psalmist being surrounded by many nations, and even though he was almost was defeated God saved him from them; even though he was disciplined severely God did not allow him to be killed by them.
I’d say seminary for me has been a battle similar to the one the psalmist describes. I felt I was constantly fighting the whole time and every time I tried to gain the upper hand whatever move I did was immediately countered. It was unreal. And also very frustrating. I survived, so it wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t good constantly being under a perfectly evil combination of low testosterone and chronic stress for 3 years.
Or perhaps it would be better to describe it with a little metaphor…
One day I embarked on a journey in a boat. I didn’t know where I was headed exactly, but I was certain that God had led me to that boat and wanted me to get on it. So I got on it. At first everything was going smoothly. The skies were clear. The sea was calm. Everything looked good. But after a short while a storm came along. Not unexpected. For as long of a journey that I was on storms were to be expected.
However, this storm never left. It stayed and kept raging and raging and never let up. As the boat was tossed by the storm I watched as one by one my hopes, dreams, and expectations were thrown overboard and drowned in the dark, watery, chaotic abyss below. Then despair begins to take hold of me. I begin to wonder if I am the next thing to be tossed overboard. Sometimes I begin to hope that I am next. What good is my life without dreams? Without expectations? Without hopes?
Then finally the storm begins to break. I look around and find that some of my hopes and dreams are still on board! Not everything is lost! I begin to recover some optimism. But it is quickly dashed because before the storm clears completely it smashes the ship into a reef. Now whatever little did remain of my hopes and dreams is lost, gone and drowned in the sea forever. Despair regains its grip on me and I begin to consider just giving up and drowning. But I am able to break out of its hold long enough to notice that there is land a swimmable distance away. So I grab a life jacket and start swimming for shore.
When I get to shore I find cliffs there. So I find a cleft and sit there and wait for the storm to pass. At some point while waiting for the storm to blow over I pass out. When I wake up I find the storm gone. The sun is shining. The Gulls are calling. I can smell the salty sea air. For the first time in I don’t know how long things are calm and pleasant.
I begin to walk along the beach to see if I can find anyone. Eventually I see a man sitting by a fire cooking something. He sees me and says to me, “Come over and eat.” But I don’t go over. I freeze. I know who he is. He’s not a man. He’s the God-man. It’s Jesus. I feel the adrenaline start coursing through my veins. I feel the anger start rising in me. I think to myself: “Oh, I’ll come over there alright. I’ll come over there and beat you with that frying pan.”
Before I am able to move though something — or someone, perhaps the Spirit, perhaps my own reasoning, some combination of the two, I don’t know — says to me, “Is this attitude of yours good? You are weak and need food and he has it. Go and eat.” As I begin to consider this statement I only get more angry — or perhaps I get angry in a different sort of way — because I know it’s true. My dreams weren’t the only the thing to get tossed overboard in the storm; my food went also. I had somehow by some miracle managed to save the water, but the food was lost. I don’t remember when I ate last because I lost track of time in the storm; when you don’t see the sun or moon or stars the days all blend into one another.
As I continue standing I feel the anger subside a bit and I grudgingly drag my feet over to the fire and sit down and eat. I don’t say anything. There’s no point. He already knows and I’ve already said it a million times before. So I just sit. And wait. I still feel the anger, but it is not as great as it once was. So I just sit and wait.
And that’s what my experience in seminary has been like.