A group of tornados are swirling within 15 minutes of me while I sit at my computer. The rain sounds heavy outside and the town’s disaster siren is sounding while I watch the local weather updates. I find this situation as an unfortunate metaphor for my life in seminary at times. Inside my dry house, as I wait for the coffee to finish brewing, I listen with unsettling ease to news anchors recite names of unknown small towns full of unknown people in distress. The seminary life can have a comparable insular feeling.
Sometimes this way of life is a shirt I try on and choose to wear, while other times it feels more like a uniform handed out, like a mechanic’s jumpsuit, protecting myself from the dirt and oil and grime that I would otherwise pick up.
This uniform can be made up of academic requirements, of hours upon hours of reading or of papers that don’t seem to be much more than mere busy work. Now I shouldn’t fault the seminary or faculty, after all, it is a graduate school and academics should be rigorous. The seminary I attend, though not perfect, is definitely good. But instead of being made of something, maybe this uniform is made of a nothingness, a void that feels just as substantial as its physical counterparts.
Lest this be another bitter diatribe against “the system” I need to face the fact that I am more than willing to accept this uniform, and more than that, I choose my own clothes to wear that help me avoid the messiness that real life offers.
In confronting the groans of creation, I retreat and choose to put on a Hazmat suit. I am oblivious to the cries of this world and refuse to struggle and toil amidst Adam’s thorns and thistles. This refusal to fight has an air of faux spirituality: how can studying the Bible be a bad thing? Getting good grades is always good, right? At least temporarily, this mystical facade allows me to avoid the curse put upon Adam and all men after him. I will not sweat, I will not eat in pain. Though I know I’m not really undoing anything, there’s still a familiar feeling of false comfort to be found.
So as the storm is now dying down, I realize how fleeting our experiences really are. And I feel the pressure of actually living life versus living something lesser. There may be pain and chaos outside of my control and it may never truly be “easy”, but I cannot deny the desire inside to characterize my existence over a something instead of a nothing. This desire won’t always offer me pleasure, and I will probably curse it for its impression of betrayal. But I’ve found that there is meaning to be discovered in things other than pleasure, though they be painful and undesirable. And the more I come to this realization that life is a messy mixture, the more I refuse that uniform, the more I deny myself those clothes that comfort me at the expense of finding true comfort. Maybe this is the “putting on of the new self” Paul talked so much about.