For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:5

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My decision, His reasons

Sometimes I wonder… Why do we make such surprising, seemingly unreasonable decisions sometimes? We have our reasons, all the time, but God has His, too.

This is the view from where I sit to work on my assignments. Our lovely hydrangea and thyme plants! 

Just about a month ago, I began my Maymester course. It was a short but intense course, involving 15 hours of class per week, and spanning four weeks in all. This meant also, that all assignments would have had to be completed within those four weeks too. On top of this, I had my culminating Masters “Capstone” project to deal with. This would be due about two weeks from the end of the Maymester course.

I’m sure you’d guess that my classmates and I wanted the class to be a breeze, and for the assignments to be easy. This makes good sense, doesn’t it? But I found myself deciding on the tougher option, only to later discern a divine hand in the whole matter.

This is a course for both masters and doctoral students. This means that while the doctoral students attend the same classes as us, their assignments are more demanding. In this case, the doctoral students were required to write a research proposal, as though for a dissertation project, as their final assignment. In the course syllabus, it was stated that masters students were offered this choice too. However, the other available choice for us was (simply) to write a lesson plan. During our first class, the professor informed us upfront that the masters students would do the lesson plan option, while the sole doctoral student would do the research proposal. I think she was quite right to assume that no masters student would sensibly choose to do the hulking task of writing a 25 page research proposal within a two week period and with the Capstone hovering in the background the way it was.

Somehow, though, I found myself drawn to the research proposal task. Generally, I had my good reasons:
            - The M.Ed. program I was enrolled barely deals with how to conduct research at all; I felt this would alleviate that weakness somewhat, in a ‘something is better than nothing’ kind of way
            - The research proposal would be for a qualitative study – a topic of fascination to me
            - I anticipate that I’ll be needing to do research in my future work
            - I had the seed of an idea for the research study

And so, I wrote the professor, and asked if I could possible take on the research proposal option. At that point, it was all quite hypothetical. I just thought, oh well, I might as well explore this…

But the professor came back saying that yes, she thought it would be great if I did the research proposal! And immediately, I was struck with a serious case of ice cold feet. It was partially the sheer expected length of the paper in the short time frame. It was also my awareness I have had no prior experience writing research proposals in an academic setting, and wouldn’t be familiar with the style and vocabulary that should be used. What did I just get myself into? This was the fear-filled refrain that hauntingly echoed in the background at that time.

The most crippling thought, however, was worse. You’re simply not a doc student, and so you won’t be able to do it! Spot on, I thought. I am definitely not a doc student. Nowhere close.

I did contemplate backing down. After all, we must all make an accurate assessment of our own abilities and resources before embarking on a task. It is simply good sense to do so. No one would argue otherwise.

And so, one day, I remember coming back from class, discouraged by something or other and deciding, okay, I’ll do the lesson plan instead. And so I settle down with my books to begin the day’s readings. The readings turn out all to be about how to conduct the exact type of research I was planning to do. The kind of research I had just given up on writing. In fact, they were models of the kind of research I had in mind. Okaaay. Perhaps I shouldn’t give up yet.

And so I don’t. But it’s hard. And one night (You’d remember the short time frame – so this would have to be maximum two or three nights later), after spending the whole day turning the ideas around on paper and in my head, I hit a dead end, and lying on my bed that night, think, okay, I’ll just do the lesson plan. Rightos. Goodnight.

But when I awake, I realize that having come so far, it would make little sense to give up just like that. And so I take the task back on, and head out to school. Who would know, but class that day is all about conducting research – yes, including the kind my research proposal would be on. I feel goosebumps, at the uncanny timeliness of this provision of exactly what I need.

And so I keep at it, day after day. Nearing the end, I even get to share my ideas with my doctoral student classmate, who shares his excellent resources with me, and helps me out with all that terminology I lack for expressing my ideas. And just like this, it got done. It’s now with my professor, waiting to be graded. It wasn’t the easy option, and I’d be surprised if it was just I who was involved in choosing this option, sticking with it, and bringing it to pass.

The truth is, it wasn’t me. At the end of this experience, I simply have God to thank for encouraging me at all those crucial moments when I was just about to give up, through providing the very thing I needed to take the next step. It wasn’t that He provided all these resources all at once in the beginning. If that were the case, knowing myself, I may have been overwhelmed instead! Having everything provided in bite-sized portions the way they were saved me the need to organize and search for my resources. They truly were right there, by divine appointment.

Sure, I had to put in a great amount of effort, still. There was a price to be paid in terms of the sheer number of hours I spent working on the paper. There were other resources I’d had to search out. But it felt like those crucial parts, without which I would not be able to complete assembling the piece of furniture, were specially handed to me. Of course, everything proceeds from God’s providence. But, is it fair to say, I felt like there was a special kind of providence at those moments when I needed help to even stay the course?

It’s so easy to breeze through an assignment, using those God-given resources like analytical and critical thinking skills, information synthesizing skills, and writing skills, without paying much attention to the fact that they proceed from God’s gracious (and miraculous) provision. It is familiarity that is to blame, as He’s provided these to us for a long time now, and we’ve gotten used to using them. But I believe that my decision to take on this task beyond my reach was precisely God’s instrument for awakening me to this miracle of His provision.

The archway I walk through on the way to classes. Walks to school are often a time to pray.

So I’d like to confess: God’s hand is indeed in my assignments, and I’m very thankful for that. And, no, my identity is not in being a masters student, or a doctorol student. I am simply a child of God, doing what He’s entrusted for me to do for now, with the resources that are available to all His children, doctoral student or otherwise. Where God guides, it is He who provides.
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?
- Robert Browning

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