My first few weeks here were laced with anxiety as I watched my workload grow and my available time shrink. I felt like the life was being squeezed right out of me. There was no possible way that I could accomplish what I was being asked to do. I'll spare you the details of my syllabus shock because they would only obscure the point. You feel stress like this, too, sometimes, even if you're not in school. Life has a way of expecting more from us than we have to give.
After prayer and talking things through with Danny and other friends, it became clear to me that there was one thing that was sapping my study time. Yes, my workload was heavy, but one assignment in particular overshadowed all the rest (ironically, it involved reading part of a German commentary by a man named Duhm, pronounced "doom"). It gradually dawned on me that if I was to let go of that one thing, I would have time for everything else. So I did. I put it aside and decided to do everything else first.
Wow. Since that day I have felt so much peace. I'm keeping up with my responsibilities, and even enjoying the process (my schedule was no longer Duhm-ed!). I needed to step back and evaluate the relative importance of what I was being asked to do. That one thing was such a small part of my grade (Wait! We don't even have grades anymore!) and it was gobbling up all my productivity. Looking back, I can't believe I let myself become so obsessed with an assignment of such peripheral importance.
This was a crucial life-lesson to learn. Over-acheivers like me are in danger of placing too much importance on what we feel others expect us to be able to do. We have a tendency to attach our identity or value to what we can accomplish. We need to periodically step back and ask the question, What is God asking me to do? What does He require of me? The answer will probably not be the same for any two of us. As I keep reminding myself, "All I can do is my best."
A happy ending: the assignment is due next week, and since I've now finished everything else I decided to give it another try. This time, I took the advice of my more experienced colleagues and approached it differently. Double wow. I had spent 3 hrs/day on it throughout the month of August, and according to my estimation the project should have taken me another 24 hours of work. After just 2 mornings I am completely finished ...with 4 days to spare!
Are you under pressure today? Pause for a moment and ask yourself where the pressure is coming from. Other people's expectations? Your own? If God expects something of you, then He supplies all the strength that you need. Anxiety is never part of the package.
Friday, September 16, 2011
my first life lesson from Wheaton: work smarter, not harder
Dr. Carmen Imes is the Associate Professor of Old Testament at Prairie College in Three Hills, Alberta, and serves the broader church through teaching, speaking, and writing. She earned a PhD in Biblical Theology (Old Testament) from Wheaton College under Dr. Daniel Block, an MA in Biblical Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a BA in Bible and Theology from Multnomah University. She and her husband, Danny, served as missionaries with SIM 15 years. They have three children: Ana, Emma, and Easton.