Thursday, February 5, 2015

Existential Crises

Some weeks, I feel good about what I'm doing with my life:  good about what I can do as an administrator, good about my teaching, good about my writing.  During really good weeks, I also feel like I'm a good wife, a good friend, a good daughter/sister/aunt.

This week has not been one of those weeks.  This week has been a week where I think back to grad school days:  I had such promise then, and I didn't even realize it!

This has been a week where I sorted through boxes of old assessment artifacts, carefully collected, dutifully analyzed, the subject of many reports, stored for years, and never asked for, reports never read.  It's been a week where I'm asked to create spreadsheets of information that already exists on other spreadsheets.  And then, because my existential crisis wasn't deep enough, I went to a mandatory, 3 hour HR training session on how to discipline and document misbehaving employees.

Our church will be spending the next two weeks with Matthew 16:  13-28, and I found it a refreshing read this morning.  In this Gospel reading, we find Jesus asking some of the basic questions. “Who do men say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a curious exchange that has Peter proclaiming Jesus as Lord, and Jesus instructing him not to tell anybody about himself.

Hmmm. Is this a basic existential moment? Surely, of all the humans who have walked the earth, Jesus would have the least reason for asking these questions—depending, of course, on your view of Jesus. Many of us believe that Jesus understood his purpose from babyhood, or at least during his childhood, when he disappeared only to be found in the Temple, teaching the priests (that story appears in Luke, not in the other Gospels). On the other hand, some scholars speculate that Jesus didn’t understand the full scope of his mission, that Jesus, like many of us, spent his days asking God, “Am I doing what you want me to do?”

We see in this text Peter getting the kind of affirmation that many of us crave. Jesus tells Peter that he will be the cornerstone, the rock.

I think of Peter and imagine that in times of frustration, he must have looked back at this moment with Christ. What a comfort that memory must be.

I spent much of my younger years longing to be sure that I was doing what God put me on earth to do, as if I had only one destiny, and I might be missing it.

My parents, in their wisdom, kept reminding me that God can use me no matter where I am. God is the original collage artist, taking bits and pieces that don’t seem to go together, and creating them into a cohesive whole.

During weeks like these, I remind myself of the multitude of small acts that I make each and every day to make life better for those at our school.  I listen to distressed colleagues, and if I can try to solve problems, I offer a solution--but I remind myself that sometimes, all I am called to do is listen.  This week I helped a sick student who was scared she was dying--but I convinced her that her flu was simply reasserting itself.  I helped a student with all sorts of complicating issues find his classroom which had been moved.  I managed to find a few extra classes for our adjuncts.  I helped a student who needed syllabi from 2008-2009 when she attended, plus credential information for the faculty.  Yes, I have those files on the computer!  I helped a student who needed transfer credit for classes she took in Germany.  This list could go on and on.

As we head away from Candlemas and towards Transfiguration Sunday, I do find myself haunted by the questions of light and our mission on earth.  Are we transfiguring the world?  Do these small acts of compassion make a difference?

I have to believe that they do.

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