Tonight at Bible study we talked about Sarah and Hagar and realized we had way more questions than we did answers and by the end we had come to realize that each statement ended with “but we just don’t know.” We can speculate, we can make educated guesses, we can provide evidence as support, but what we can’t do is know. And I love that. I thrive off it. I use it as an invitation to “suck the marrow out of life” (thanks for that tidbit Thoreau).
Because not knowing is a springboard to discovery and learning.
Well, maybe, but “I am what I am and that’s all that I am” (Props to Popeye for that one) and I won’t apologize for it. People are so afraid of not knowing things, but I think it’s beautiful and humbling. So why are people afraid of not knowing?
Not Knowing is Scary: when you don’t know the outcome to something, it can be terrifying. How did I do on that test? Will I have enough credits to graduate? Will my boyfriend’s parents like me? All of these unknowns can be terrifying, but there is a certain kind of beauty in them as well. Don’t get me wrong, I want to know the answers, which is exactly why I LIKE not knowing, because then I have a PURPOSE, something for which to search, to KNOW to experience.
Not Knowing is Intimidating: “What do you mean you don’t know?” Not knowing connotes stupidity, ignorance…but that’s not what it really means. Not knowing isn’t the same as ignorance; not knowing is in a perpetual state of ‘yet’. It’s an invitation to knowledge, not a label of ignorance that we should embrace.
Not Knowing is ineffable: We can’t describe the sensations that not knowing gives us—it’s upsetting, it’s frustrating, it’s freeing, but ultimately it’s what makes us human.
So I like not knowing, because it means I still have something left to know. As the Doctor himself says, “I don’t know…But that’s good, the day I know everything I might as well stop.”
And I’m certainly not ready to stop yet. Because who am I—who are we all? Might as well quote the Doctor here too…”The stuff of legend.”
I would wager to guess that many of us go to work each day and spend at least a small (though often it is large) percentage of time complaining about something.
There is no coffee in the pot.
Someone ate the last donut.
There is a weird smell.
My boss…OMG, my boss…
The children are wild.
My subordinates are needy.
I don’t get paid enough.
I could go on for days, because I’ve been there. Stress with a capital STRESS, can cause us to be cranky with a capital CRANK and IE just to add an extra letter in there for emphasis. But what if it’s not our jobs, or the people, or the place or even the money that leads to the feelings and emotions stacking up one on top of the other day after day? What if it’s about perspective?
While reading Satisfy My Thirsty Soul, by Linda Dillow I’ve been challenged in many ways. Dillow challenges readers to wake up to the many ways in which we worship—or should worship—each and every day of our lives. Often the term ‘worship’ is misused. It is not a synonym for music. Worship is any way we pay reverence or homage to God. Dillow expands this definition by exploring how we as individuals can worship with our lives, our words, our attitudes—and, as in the chapter I most recently read, our work.
I spend a lot of time at work. And now I have two jobs.
My first job is at school—I do a lot of complaining at this job. More than I wish I did, but less than most because while I do get frustrated I do honestly love what I do. Do I believe things could be better? Absolutely. Do I believe it is a demanding profession? You betcha. Am I often disheartened and disillusioned by the thanklessness of the teenagers who I spend hours of my time trying to help just to hear them say: ‘this is stupid’? Of course. But complaining really doesn’t do any good. In fact, all it does it stress me and the people around me out. And who wants that. So why do I do it?
I call it “venting”. That makes it sound better, right?
But what if I train myself to look at my work differently? What if instead of getting frustrated that the teenager still doesn’t have his homework—what if I turn my work into praise?
Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.
Dillow uses this phrase in her book, but it actually comes from the Rule of St. Benedict, a book of precepts written around 529 CE. This is not a new concept. Work is worship (or prayer); Worship is work. For centuries, Monks have used this concept to help keep balance in the monastery (when it wasn’t corrupted I suppose). The point is, everything you do is worship—and work should not be an exception. So if I can shift my perception and see my work as worship then perhaps I can help bring more joy to not only my life, but the people around me as well.
But how do I do this? On Friday one of my kids came racing down the hall as the final bell rang and into my classroom. He jumped over a couple of desks in a hurry to sit down. I was tired. And frankly not in the mood to deal with rambunctious teenagers. I frowned at him and scolded a little about his lack of propriety, but in retrospect all he was doing was what I had asked–showing energy and that he was trying to get to class on time. I could have fed off that energy and made the class, all of whom were a bit riled up by the act, more energetic and engaging as a result. Instead I was cranky. “Ms Carmichael you seem a bit cranky. You ok?” Another student asked. I responded as you might imagine a cranky teacher might respond. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t allow students to climb on the desks like monkeys or anything, but the attitude I have when I respond to it is what makes or breaks my class and quite frankly distinguishes me as a teacher, which leads me back to bowing my work, something I don’t do nearly as often as I need to. Especially the last 2 years. I’ve had these battles and I need to lay them at the cross each morning when I get up. I am a teacher.
But I can’t do it on my own. Nor should I try. As it happens, I was also reading Francis Chan’s book this week Forgotten God. I don’t think it was a coincidence that much of what Chan writes applied directly to what I learned from Dillow. Chan points out that James 4:3 tells us that we can ask for wisdom, guidance, direction and the Holy Spirit all day long, but if we ask for the wrong reasons, God’s answer is going to be no. Our reasons have to be to bring him glory, not to bring our self glory or as the verse says to “spend it on our passions.” As a teacher I know that I have the opportunity to touch so many lives each and every day, but I have to understand that “our desire to live should be for the sake and glory of the God who put us on this earth in the first place” (Chan). And I think I too often forget that—which is where I fail most often.
And so I come to my second job, writing—which is where I really have to be careful not to want to spend all my askings on my own passions. Teaching gives me a daily reminder that there are others out there—writing is not as straight forward. Now that I have published Valerie’s Vow, I know I have readers; my publisher gave me the good news about my book this weekend. It’s selling at the top (tied with another book—A Ripple in the Water by Donna Small) of their books on the site and on Amazon. Even so, it’s not a constant reminder. Currently I working on novel that is not a sequel to Valerie’s Vow, but is written in a very similar style—the working title is Clara’s Chance. While I outlined the story and I know where I want it to go, it still has a life of its own. What I keep reminding myself is that my writing is not just for me. I write because I want to use the talent I have been blessed with to bring glory to God, and if I’m not then I have to stop. Vanity and pride are close beside me as I become a creator of something new. It’s beautiful, but ultimately I have to squash them. Because it can’t be about me.
Sometimes I worry that I’m a little too realistic.
Things don’t really work out that well in the end, I tell myself. Expect disappointment in the long run, because, after all, we are living in a sick and fallen world. If I don’t hold expectations that are too high, then I don’t run as high a risk of getting hurt, or let down. It’s okay when I’m disappointed, I tell myself, because I expected it.
I don’t call it pessimism because I’m not seeing the world as half empty, but for what it is—sick.
Unfortunately because I tend to think this way, I miss out on a lot of things as well: giddiness, excitement, passion, intensity, mystery and maybe even joy and thankfulness because I am constantly holding everyone and everything at arm’s length. Don’t let anything too close—you’ll see the imperfections and it will disappoint you in the end.
I don’t know when I started thinking like this. I haven’t always. I used to be the most open and inviting child in the world. I can’t pinpoint a trauma, or a life event that occurred making me close up and change. I imagine it has something to do with my depression and anxiety struggle, but that’s not really the point. It doesn’t matter why I started thinking this way—the point is, somewhere along the line…I did!
The funny thing about it is, usually when I open up to people and I let people in, I’m NOT disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been disappointed by a lot of people in life, but especially in the past couple of months, I realized just how blessed I am and just when I start to get jaded again about the world—God will send me a little reminder of my blessings.
Today I was shopping for school supplies like I do every August. I was in Walmart and Was putting all these things on the counter and I’m at the age where everyone just assumes I’m married with children so all these crayons and notebooks are, of course, for my 2.5 kids in the burbs I have. The man behind me smiled and said, “Boy am I glad to have aged out of that stage!” Instead of just smiling and nodding, I decided to go a different route this morning and offer a bit of myself—I smiled and said, “Well, I teach so I guess I’ll never age out of buying these things since they’re for my classroom.”
The man looked sufficiently impressed. I wasn’t buying out the store or anything, but I had a decent amount of supplies—hand sanitizer, folders, glue sticks, colored pencils and the like. “That’s what the dollar tree is good for,” he nodded and rocked back and forth on his heels. I laughed, “Actually I shop around for the best deals; that pack of crayons is only twenty-five cents here. I just want to make sure all my students have what I need for them to be successful.” I pulled out my debit card to pay and the man slipped a five dollar bill into my wallet. “I know it’s not much,” he said softly, “but I just want to contribute a little something for the fine job you’re doing for kids who don’t have the supplies. They don’t pay ya’ll enough for that.” I protested, but he held up his hand. “It’s my good deed for the day,” he said with a wink.
I may not get paid a lot, but that man paid me a compliment that was worth more than most of the money in my wallet and he reminded me today that there are people in the world who not only listen but do actually want to care.
I have a lot to be thankful for. A lot to be excited about. A lot to be passionate about, and a lot to look forward to. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be less realistic—I can’t be a whole new person—but I’m working on the attitude thing. One day at a time.
I don’t buy into all statistics, but one statistic that has always stood out to me is that only 25% of the population is truly introverted. My parents had 3 kids, and both my siblings are extremely extroverted so it stands to reason that one of us (namely me) would end up introverted. My favorite description for introverts is that we are ‘wired differently’. It’s a little better than other descriptions I’ve heard. Generally I’m “quirky” or “eccentric” or “weird” or my personal favorite “snobby”; I like to call it the Georgianna Darcy syndrome. I’m not proud, I’m just shy…well, maybe I’m a little proud too, but really it’s my introversion—my aversion to attention that keeps me at arm’s length from people around me.
“But Ashley!” You say, “You’re a teacher! How can you be an introvert?” Great question! Introversion doesn’t mean that you hate people. That’s misanthropy (which I’ve had struggles with), introversion is more about the way that you gain energy. Extroverts gain energy with the outer world by interacting with people while introverts gain energy by focusing on the inner world of ideas. To me, that’s textbook teacher, especially when combined with my other quirky personality traits (I’m an INFJ for anyone who has taken the Meyer’s Briggs test, you can get that). But I digress. Back to the introvert concept. For an introvert, like me, gaining energy is all about focusing on ideas, reflecting, processing, control, reading, writing, and quiet. So when we get in this writing challenge to SHARING, PUBLISHING, PROVOKING, these words stand out in all caps because they are terrifying.
The challenge for me is simple. Quit being a nerd bomber (yes, I did just pull a 90s sitcom reference) and really put yourself out there. It’s the only way that you will ever make a splash.
I’m getting ready to go on my trip to California where I will have a multitude of opportunities to read and write about many different subjects on a number of different thought provoking issues and to discuss them with colleagues from across this great nation of ours. Because, after all, isn’t that what is so great about living in this country of ours? We have the freedom to share, to publish and to provoke in whatever ways we can. Not everyone has that privilege, so I’ll gain energy from the writing and then I’ll expel it when I’m sharing. Because wheat is the point of gaining energy if you never use it?
Encouraging restoration, healing, and expression through writing.