by Lisa Robinson
I was reading this blog post the other day entitled New Year’s Revolution. Instead of new year’s resolutions, Sharifa Stevens (DTS grad and former admissions officer) writes that perhaps the greater goal should be new years revolutions. She identifies the meaning as “a sudden, radical and complete change”. When you think about what a revolution means, it is to upset a controlling regime in order to implement a new one. Revolutions are not pleasant. They upset the order of things and often bring chaos in preparation for the new paradigm. The idea of revolution is that God transforms the lives of his children, most often through unpleasant circumstances. As Sharifa indicates, it is a way in which our identity is enforced and our man-made plans reorganized.
But this is not something that is typically associated with seminary. It sure wasn’t for me. In fact, it was the wee hours of News Years Day 2008 that I received the electronic copy of my acceptance to DTS. And on that New Years Day, as I beamed with excitement at the prospects of the pending new chapter in my life, a revolution was the farthest thing from my mind. I thought about, what I believe most people think about when entering seminary, the advancement in my biblical and theological studies, the opportunities to hone and sharpen thinking, the acquisition of tools for effective ministry. Yes, this would be a time of great learning in preparation for ministry in order to impact many lives for the sake of Christ. Little did I know that the life most impacted would be my own.
I started the journey innocently enough, eager to begin my studies. The learning process was even more than I expected. Not only have I generally enjoyed the classroom interaction, but was impressed with the pastoral tenor of instruction and genuine concern for students well being and spiritual growth. This was the part of seminary that I think is a common perception. I certainly have relished it and it continues to be a bright spot in the journey. I have also met some of the most amazing people, students and faculty alike. This too, I anticipated and treasure. Additionally, the process has provoked continual examination of my own theology and scriptural interpretation. I have had to confront some inconsistencies. The more time transpires, the more classes I take, the more chapel messages I hear, is the more I have realized how much I really don’t know. But this too, has been enjoyable in an unnerving sort of way.
But at the same time, something else was going on, something completely unexpected, something that started right at the outset of that first semester. Fragments of past hurts, unhealed wounds and suppressed disappointments began surfacing. The four semester Spiritual Formation group started in my first semester, would provoke this unearthing with focused exercises of examining our identity and integrity. The spring semester of 2009 where we focused on our life stories was probably the most unnerving. What began as a slow leak of pain and loss, turned into what seemed like a geyser of unpleasantness that had permeated to so much of my life. The root causes for many poor choices began glaring me right in the eye, exacerbated by external events that only highlighted the sense of loss and pain that had marked my life, though hidden to conceal dysfunction that I had allowed for so long. The events only amplified the inner turmoil that was erupting like a volcano. An apartment fire, robbery at gunpoint and a forced ride to the ATM with my son in the care, being side swiped by an 18 wheeler on the freeway only precipitated the unremitting reminders that would drive me to many tearful nights on my knees. What made matters worse was the endless parade of well being in others and their showers of blessings that stood in stark contrast to the absences that I longed to be filled. Never in my Christian life had I experienced such a sense of loss as I have during this time. There have been times when I began to question if I should continue. This was not what I came to seminary for.
But as I look back over my five eventful semesters, I am coming to a different conclusion and a new understanding of seminary. I have learned that seminary is more than just books and learning and theological engagement, but is preparation for ministry where theology must intersect the lives of desperate, hurting, fearful, spiritually thirsty and even spiritually ambivalent people. It is a time to examine and shake-off detrimental impediments to spiritual development and Christian maturity. Because the truth is, if seminary is about ministry training, then it seems very reasonable that it would also serve as the vehicle through which God would revolutionize the lives of those who seek to serve him. It seems reasonable to me that what I considered as detrimental events, was really a divinely orchestrated revolution to purge the real detriments, lest I leave seminary with the same baggage in which I entered it.
Whether you are in seminary or not, if you are serious about serving Christ, I have learned through my revolutionary experience that God will upset the order of our lives in order to exponentially increase the capacity of impacting the lives of others. If you are in seminary and the bottom seems to have fallen out, don’t despair. It’s probably a sign that you are indeed on the right track. Will you run away from the disruption or willingly surrender through pain and tears, citing as Job did “though he slay me yet will I trust in Him (Job 13:15).”? If you are thinking about seminary, know that ministry to God’s people is serious business. When you put the books down, there are still lives that go on, including your own. It is no cause for fear but should produce awe at the prospect of understanding God’s word and his program for people better. Seminary or not, God loves his people too much to leave us where we are.
But there is another side to revolutions that Sharifa so adequately brings out by pointing out the other definition, “the period made by the regular succession of a measure of time or by a succession of regular events.” She aptly notes this as a cycle in which periods of victory are seemingly laid low by periods of remarkable defeat. But this revolution too shines light on pride and self-independence that can become a false delusion in seminary, a delusion that our learning automatically sews up our ability to be effective ministers of grace. It is only through God’s love and faithfulness, that we are knocked off our pious and self-righteous horses. It is his revolutionizing lives in this way that allow us to really see the beauty of His grace and experience His faithfulness.
Now that I am at the mid-point of my program, I have no idea what the remaining five semesters will hold. But I can count on the fact that what God started, He will also complete. I don’t relish the pain, angst and sorrows experienced during my first half of my seminary journey and sincerely hope for some positive changes going forward. It also could be that not everyone in seminary requires this kind of revolution, and it might be a time of much blessings and refreshment from previous revolutions. Only God knows what He is doing in the lives of His people. Regardless, I am grateful for the way that seminary has revolutionized my life or rather how God has used it for these purposes.