As I said last week, I’ve just finished defending my dissertation. Last week, I talked about why I went through this five-year process. As much as I’ve learned at DBU, God taught me so much more about life as I tried to lead my family and this school through this process. Of all the things God taught me, three things come shining forth as significant life lessons. Even when I’ve forgotten everything about Leadership Studies (my field of study), these three things will resonate with me forever, maybe into the New Jerusalem.
1. You are capable of so much more than you think you are, if you are following God’s calling on your life. When I began this trek, I had a pretty consuming job, a young-ish family, and lots of responsibilities. Taking on these additional studies seemed like a lot of extra load. I had no idea. I never really wanted to talk about it at the time, because I was afraid it would come across as whining, but now it’s a testimony to the Lord: this program involved two hours a night on weekdays, and about five hours a day on weekends. In a very real way, it was a second, very consuming job.
And, that wasn’t all. During that time, God called me to other leadership responsibilities, opportunities that were as obvious as the nose on my face. Things like serving on the board of CESA, which has not only opened the door to about half the best practices we follow as a school and our Blue Ribbon status, but has allowed us to make an impact in Christian education nationwide. Or, serving on the board of the Texas Private School Association, which has allowed me to use the legal training God gave me years ago to help our school and the other schools in the state of Texas preserve our religious liberties and our ability to act as independent schools, free from government control. It’s dizzying now to think about how time-consuming all this was. And yet, God gave me that measure of grace, energy, wisdom, and strength I needed for each new day. Not for next week, or next month, or next year, but for that day. We’ve all struggled, because we live in a fallen world, but God has held my family, this school, and these organizations together and allowed them to flourish. He’s done this through His goodness, and by His grace.
I’m not any more capable or any better than anyone else. In fact, in a lot of ways, I’m worse. I’m prone to be moody, I have bad eyesight and migraine headaches if I read too long (and there has been LOTS of reading), I’m ADD. There are all kinds of reasons I shouldn’t have finished this, and should be one of the 44 percent of people who begin the PhD process and don’t finish within 10 years.
What God taught me, and what I hope to encourage in you, is that anyone can do this. I don’t mean finish a PhD while you run a school. I mean that thing, or those things, that you hear God calling you to but that you haven’t done yet because you feel like you just can’t. Pastor Mark Batteson says that when God gives the vision, He gives the provision. That applies to time and energy, too. Pray, and ask Him whether He’s calling you. If He is, He will give you what you need to do it. You can do it, by His grace.
2. Most things we accomplish in life come about through a long, hard slog in the same direction. But, it’s never easy, is it? Everything worthwhile in life is just one daily step forward in obedience. In the writing phase of my dissertation, it was a matter of making the decision of sitting down every night after dinner and choosing to write, rather than watch TV, or read a book, or do one of the many other things that I would rather have done than write. It required getting up early on Friday mornings, driving to Dallas for an 8:00 am class, leaving Dallas at 5:00 pm to get back in time for our GCS home football game, then getting up early on Saturday morning to drive back to Dallas for my 8:00 am class.
You don’t really need to be smart to get a PhD; you just need to be persistent. It’s a long, hard slog in the same direction. When you think about it, everything really worthwhile in life is that way. Raising kids who love the Lord, having a strong a healthy marriage, living a long resilient life that honors the Lord, being successful in your studies at school or at work. It all requires patience, hard work, and obedience. That’s what Angela Duckworth popularly called “grit,” and what the Bible calls perseverance. That, maybe almost more than any other skill, is what we try to teach our kids at Grace. It’s why Grace is such a great college and life prep school, I think better than any other around here. Because life is about grit (that’s biblical- see James 1), and Grace teaches kids to be gritty.
3. No one does it alone. Finally, God reminded me that life is a team sport. In my acknowledgment to my dissertation, I thank my family, my leadership team, the school board, the elders, and all of you. You all helped me through this, through encouragement, prayers, covering for me, doing your jobs well. God calls us to community because it glorifies Him and we are in desperate need of it. Community with God’s people allows us to fulfill God’s calling, to do things we never thought possible. It allows us to take each new day as it comes, to walk through the hard slog of life. And, it sustains us along the way.
Pretty good, huh? This PhD stuff is more than just nerdy bookwork. It’s about life.
Jay Ferguson writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.