In 40 days, I will be 40 years old. As a way to capture this milestone, I’ve been doing some reflection. My life is full of so many blessings. I walked across a stage on Saturday and received my Doctor of Ministry degree. I never expected to have a doctorate by the age of 40.
I did expect that my students would be particularly amused that my DMin degree sounds like "demon" when you say it. Their fascination with this has not disappointed.
I work with college students and if you know me, you know I love my students. You may know that they were the subject and catalyst for my thesis project that sealed my doctorate. You may know that the project is something I am very proud of and that I hope to have some cool content for you soon that I can distill out of my thesis (peep my summary for Christianity Today). What you may not know is that this new addition to my title has zero effect on my job and day-to-day with my work as a chaplain. After my defense and my graduation, I came back, went to work, and jumped back into exactly what I did before my defense (and before my doctorate began back in 2017).
I know people get higher education degrees for several reasons. For some, they are the fuel that will propel them into a new career or position. Some will get distinction in their community or other perks. I know that for some, the pursuit of a degree is feeding the need to prove themselves or achieve some status that seems unreachable without it. I wish I could say that my motives were pure, but now that I’ve officially changed my title on my LinkedIn page, I’m taking some time to truly assess, "why did I do this?" and "what now?"
I can’t quite fully answer those questions today, I’m putting this out there because I am committing to 40 days of reflection and meditation. It’s not every day you finish a milestone on the heels of another milestone. I plan to abstain from sweets & alcohol, exercise every day, nap every day, write, read, and indulge the slower moments without rushing to fill them. My thesis advisor, the indomitable Rev. Dr. Wesley Hill, gave me a lot of good advice about how to take my thesis and build on it for wider audiences. But he also said this: "Take some time to just sit with it. Don’t rush in."
“Human beings have a hard time regarding anything beautiful without wanting to devour it.”― Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
I’ve been thinking about this because the last thing I’ve been wanting to do is “just sit with it." I’ve got lists and plans and drive. I want to launch into the next project. But I know I need to push back from the table for a second. It’s not because I’m not proud of my accomplishment. It’s not because I shouldn’t celebrate. I know my thesis is good and has changed my ministry to emerging adults indelibly; I need to get it out there.
But there is immeasurable value in Sabbath.
Do you know what was so shocking about Sabbath to the ancient peoples of the world? When everything anyone did was focused on survival, any breaks or disruptions could be life-threatening. Sabbath was a major declaration that the people of God were banking majorly on God’s provision. They were also declaring the fact that all the fruits of their labors were because of His good grace and riches poured out.
The other reason it was so shocking was because it made a staggering declaration of freedom. You know who doesn’t get a break? Slaves. Only free people have the status to step back and rest. Sabbath is an astonishing declaration of our freedom in Christ. Yet, many of us live like slaves.
Before I step into the next Act of my life, and before I pull the trigger on new plans, or dream about what is next, I need to remember. I need to remember that I am free. I need to remember that I am more than my accolades. I need to remember that the web of variables that even allowed me the opportunity to pursue a degree in the first place all come from the grace of God and are not singularly of my own talent or intellect. I need time to reflect on my ambitions, motives, sin, accomplishments, and victories. And I cannot go into these places with the vulnerability required without a sober, steadied aim and the presence of a loving Creator who invites me to Sabbath, beauty, rest, and restoration. So, I plan on slowing down, staying engaged in the details of my job, listening to my students, pumping the breaks on grand plans, and walking with hands open into my 40th year. I hope to walk in knowing I am loved, valued, free, and brave because of Christ. I plan to walk in with new tools and gifts I have acquired so that I can use them as just that; as tools and not as status or identity. I invite you to walk with me. Sabbath is an important and essential discipline that defies a culture that despises it. But Christ has made us free. I hope you get some time to think on this transformative truth.
“And so I urge you to still every motion that is not rooted in the Kingdom. Become quiet, hushed, motionless until you are finally centered. Strip away all excess baggage and nonessential trappings until you have come into the stark reality of the Kingdom of God. Let go of all distractions until you are driven into the Core. Allow God to reshuffle your priorities and eliminate unnecessary froth. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, 'Pray for me that I not loosen my grip on the hands of Jesus even under the guise of ministering to the poor.' That is our first task: to grip the hands of Jesus with such tenacity that we are obliged to follow his lead, to seek first his Kingdom.”
― Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World