Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

On Doubt

Tonight, I had the pleasure of attending the end of year party for my department, Hebrew Bible. I had been excited about this event for weeks, but by the time this afternoon rolled around, it was the last thing I wanted to do. A rainy afternoon, preceded by a ridiculously fun and relaxing weekend, did nothing to enhance my enthusiasm. But alas, I mustered up my best attitude and I went.

These sorts of parties are hopelessly awkward, but if you embrace the awkwardness, it goes a little better. So for awhile I was fine with my glass of wine, listening to/cracking jokes about footnotes, the New Testament, and source criticism…but after about an hour, I started to feel really depressed. As fellow graduate students began to share their stories about applying to PhD programs, getting in, not getting in, etc… I felt my familiar enemy, doubt, beginning to creep in. After all, being in a room with like-minded colleagues and professors alike is quite an intimidating situation.

I have found, though, that God always has a way of jumping in when I need God the most.  Tonight, a source of encouragment came from the most unlikely of places–one of my teachers from this semester, who I never really had a chance to get to know.  Randomly, he walked up to me and asked what I thought of the program so far.  Before I even had a chance to answer, he said “You know, it is often said of graduate programs, that ‘the cream rises to the top.’  And while that is often true, and the ‘best’ students always get the best placements, more often than not, it is the most dedicated students who are the most successful.” 

I was completely blown away. Those words were exactly what I needed to here in that exact moment.  He then went on to encourage me, and told me to keep working as hard as I possible can–to apply to as many programs as possible, to really seek out who I want to work with. All wonderful advice.

Because, really, doubting myself gets me nowhere. If I could channel every moment I spend worrying about whether or not I am good enough into something productive, I would be a much better student. And if I know anything about myself, I know that I am dedicated. So here’s to dedication and hard work. Someday, hopefully, it will all pay off.

Do you have doubts about yourself? How do you overcome doubt?

leaving it behind

These next few weeks are arguably the most challenging weeks of the year for me–filled with final exams, final papers, finalizing summer plans. Each day is a race to learn as many signs as I can, write as many words as I can. I feel like I’m carrying around a backpack filled with rocks, and each time I finish something, I get to throw one rock out of my backpack…and gradually, my load gets lighter and lighter.

These tough weeks are just beginning, so right now my “backpack” is really, really heavy. I turned in a draft of my final paper yesterday, so I mentally checked one thing off the list and felt instantly a little lighter.

Since joining my Crossfit gym a few months ago, I have continuously seen parallels between our workouts and my life. This morning’s workout looked really easy on the board–three moves, done 1 time, 2 times, 3 times, all the way up to 10, and then back down to 1. Sounded tough, but manageable.  By the time I made it to 10 reps, I felt like I was going to pass out, and I still had to work my way all the way back to 1.

As I dropped to the floor to do push-ups, I noticed a growing puddle of sweat in my workout area. That is just disgusting, I am thinking to myself. Each time I drop down to do another push up, my little sweat puddle grows. I focus on this for a minute, and I suddenly got another burst of energy. Epiphany! Each morning I come to this gym, loaded down with my worries and thoughts about the coming day–today for example, I have my last quiz in both Akkadian and German (my two hardest classes) back-to-back–but when I’m in the box (what we call our gym), all that matters is pushing through. As I focus on each move, and sweat falls off me, I leave behind my worries about my inadequacies. I’ve left behind eight pounds in that gym already. And with each day, as my body gets stronger, so does my mind.

So today, get out there and push yourself–mentally, physically, emotionally–and feel the exhilaration, the freedom of knowing you’ve left something behind you.

schedule interruptions

I am obsessed with planning. My apartment is littered with sticky notes, to-do lists. I plan my days out down to the minute sometimes.  I tell myself that my academic goals/life goals necessitate such planning, but at times, I’m quite confident that I take it a bit too far.

Have you ever seen that Adam Sandler, movie “Click”?  For most of the movie, Adam Sandler’s character is on “auto pilot”…he simply fast forwards through the seemingly “meaningless” parts of his life…and then one day, pauses and realizes that years and years have gone by.  The moral of the story is, all of those little meaningless day to day tasks, conversations with family and friends, days at the office–whether we think they are important are not, all of these things add up to life.

The problem is, most of these things don’t fit nicely into my plans. When I plan to sit at my desk and study for a few hours, someone will call as soon  as I sit down. Or I’ll get an important email. Or I’ll remember that I have to pay the electric bill. And then I feel distracted, irritated, and my hours of studying turn into hours of moping, and convincing myself that going to graduate school was just a bad decision.

But today, I did something completely uncharacteristic. Despite my plans to work this evening, I came home from work and decided to go for a run. Not part of the plan, but I didn’t care–it was a beautiful spring evening and I wanted to be a part of it. So off I went. And I was running to a great song, and then my ipod died. But I just kept on running. And as I was running, I thought to myself–and now my phone is ringing.

And I’m laughing.

procrastinate later

The past few mornings, I have awoken to an epic battle: me versus my snooze button. I have been plagued by a bout of sheer laziness, exhaustion…I honestly don’t know what to call it. Suffice it to say, I’ve been walking around the past two days on auto pilot and generally feeling awful.

I keep a barrage of cliches, inspirational ideas, and problem solving techniques on hand for days like this. After all, I cannot afford such moments of laziness.  Who can? One such “lazy” evening means 20 less cuneiform signs that I’ve learned. Not possible in my world.

But alas, nothing could shake my crazy mood. Then this afternoon, I remembered one little adage I hadn’t yet pulled out of the arsenal: “Act the way I want to feel.”  This is a quote from a fantastic book I recently read, The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. In the book, Rubin takes herself on a yearlong journey through her everyday life, looking for ways to become happier.

“Act the way I want to feel” seems a little fake at times, but it really works! This afternoon at work, when I remembered this, I started smiling energetically when undergrads came in asking silly questions about filing for taxes, and I moved through my work diligently, checking tasks off of my list. When I went to job #2, I went quickly through the stacks, selecting the right books, noting my full cart proudly. I wanted to feel energetic, so I started to act energetic. And it absolutely worked. Too bad this took me two days to remember.  Any other ideas for snapping out of funky moods?

So now, safely out of my lazy, procrastinating mood, I am off to a few hours of studying cuneiform!

Faithful Thomas

Today’s Gospel (John 20:24-29): Jesus and “Doubting” Thomas

I’ve always thought it is wildly unfair that Thomas gets such a bad rap. I mean, the guy had a good point—he needed some evidence. What is wrong with asking for a sign? If I walked into a room and 11 of my friends told me that they had just seen Jesus, I’d think they were all crazy, and you can be certain I would want some sort of sign! But nonetheless, poor Thomas ends up being the poster child for doubt.

Tonight at Mass, the celebrant pointed out something I had never realized: just a few chapters before the doubt incident (Ch 11), Thomas had been the most faith-filled of all the disciples. As Jesus was preparing to head back to Judea, the disciples warned him not to go.  They reminded him that last time he was in town, people tried to stone him.  Thomas, however, was filled with faith in Jesus’ mission.  Thomas said to the other disciples “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” That doesn’t sound very “doubtful” to me. In fact, that is one of the boldest statements of faith in the entire Gospel of John.

Why, then, is Thomas remembered as the one who doubted Jesus, and not as the faithful believer?

I think that we need a figure like Thomas. We need to be reminded that even someone who lived and walked with Jesus every day, and who saw him perform miracles all the time, can doubt.  We need to know that even though we have followed Christ in the past, and made radical statements of faith, that we are human. We doubt. And we need signs, and we need serious help. We need to know that we’re doing the right thing, loving the right way.  

And you know what? Thomas asked for a sign, and Jesus gave him one. Jesus appeared a week later, and he wasn’t even angry with Thomas for doubting. He knew the poor guy just wanted some proof. So he showed up, showed off his wounds, and said “Do not doubt but believe.”

We are human, after all. And we are deeply loved. And sometimes, even though we’ve seen some great things happen, we just don’t get it. Something is still missing. So we ask for a sign. And then we wait, and pray for the grace to recognize it when it shows up.

what are you afraid of?

A few months ago, my Mom came up for a visit. It had been a rough few months and I was so grateful for her loving presence. On Sunday morning, we went to Mass at a nearby church and afterwards, decided to browse their bookstore (sidenote: there are few things in life that my Mom loves more than a good Catholic bookstore!)

She stumbled upon this book called “God, I have Issues” by a Jesuit, Mark. E. Thibodeaux.  She LOVED the title and we laughed hysterically at its truthfulness. Who among us doesn’t have “issues” after all? This book has little entries to help you pray through any mood, and it is a fantastic resource, I highly recommend it! 

To say that I had an important meeting today would be an understatement. Arguably one of the most important meetings of my academic career loomed before me this afternoon, with merely 20 minutes to spare. So I grabbed this book and read the entry called “God, I’m Afraid” which seemed most fitting in this moment.

This entry focused on allowing prayer to let you get to the root of your fear. I was definitely not in a praying mood–after all, I was panicking and pacing back and forth through my apartment. In typical Ignatian style, Fr. Mark asks “What are you afraid of?” Once you’ve answered that, he asks again. and again. Until finally, maybe you get to the real root of your fear.

Today when I did this exercise, I got to the bottom of my fear: failure. I am afraid of failure. So much of my future is out of my control, and this frightens me.  But I felt so much better just naming the fear. So I gave it up to God, asked for God to sit in that meeting with me, and went to my meeting.

And you know what? It turned out to be one of the greatest meetings in recent memory, and I now have the opportunity of a lifetime in front of me.  To sum it up, “Mama always said that miracles happen every day. Some people don’t think so, but they do!” (Forrest Gump)

So I ask you, what are you afraid of?

one more rep

I recently joined a gym in an effort to become a healthier, happier person. So far, it has been an incredible experience…I have never challenged my body this much, and I am certainly seeing results.

What I never imagined is that these workouts require just as much mental capacity as they do physical. Today, for example, our workout consisted of three different exercises, done 10 ten times each, then 9 times each, then 8…all the way down to one rep. It is so difficult for me to talk myself into continuing and working through the pain…when I reach 8 reps all I can think about is how hard it is to breathe, knowing full well that I have to work my way down to 1 rep. The only thing that makes it better is to break each set into blockss, and focus on that one block. then the next. then the next. Until finally I can yell “time!” and collapse on the floor, marvelling at what I have just accomplished.

During today’s workout, I thought about how the worst thing that can happen in this kind of situation: what if one of my coaches suddenly shouted, right at the end of that workout,”Wait! Work your way back up to sets of ten!” Or something like that. As the thought crossed my mind this morning, I decided that if that ever happened, I would just give up. Done and done. I made up my mind as to what I can do, figured out how to mentally get myself there, and I’m done.

This afternoon, potentially faced with a similiar dilemma regarding my academic career, for a brief moment, I thought about giving up. I’ve put in my time, tried my best, and next year, May 2011, I’ll graduate and that will be that. I had my plan, I stuck to it, and someone is merely telling me that it might not be enough. So I’ll pack my bags.

But where is the courage in that? If one of my coaches pulled such a trick during a workout, I can only hope that I would have the strength and the courage to keep pushing through, focusing on one rep at a time, until I collapse from exhaustion, knowing with all my being that I have done all that I can.

So with that, my bags are packed-with flashcards and grammar books- and I’m headed back to the library.

Triduum, or why I love being Catholic

As long as I can remember, the Holy Thursday liturgy has been one of my favorite Masses all year. I love the commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist, I love the deeply rooted connection to the Passover tradition…I could go on and on.

One part I’ve never really been into is the whole washing of the feet thing. I find it so awkward and I’ve never really understood it. Tonight, a seemingly unrelated event shed some light on this ritual…

I have a massive Akkadian test tomorrow, so I had big plans for tonight: arrive at the Catholic center two hours early, coffee in hand, flashcards at the ready, with two glorious hours of intense studying before me. I had the coffee and flashcards, what I did not have was access to the library in the Catholic center. Because of Holy Week, the center was closed, except for prayer.  My heart sank when I saw this notice on the door. Where the heck am I supposed to go now, I’m thinking to myself.  I shared my plight with the security guard on duty, and she agreed to let me spend some time in the lobby studying, as long as I “looked” like I was praying.

Considering how much praying actually goes on while I’m studying Akkadian (aka Sweet Jesus, please help me remember this paradigm tomorrow when my mind goes blank…) I figured this wouldn’t be too hard.

But alas, God had other plans. A few minutes later, the woman came up to me and said “Excuse me, but just so I am not actually lying, would you mind stepping into the meditation room for a few minutes to pray?” Wow, God, I’m thinking, you really are outdoing yourself right now. After all, wasn’t I here to go to Mass in the first place? Of course I said yes, and I spent some peaceful moments reflecting on the hilarity of the situation, alone in the meditation room.

A few moments after I returned to the lobby, as I finally picked up my Akkadian book to begin studying, the woman began walking toward me again. I figured she was going to kick me out, or ask me to pray again or something.  Instead, she brought over a glass of ice water and said, “I thought you could use this!”  Me=speechless.

What an incredibly simple act of generosity. I felt so grateful and so utterly humbled in that moment. Saying thank you didn’t seem like enough, because this woman had gone completely out of her way not only to allow me the kindness of entering the building, but by showing me such hospitality and warmth.

Perhaps, then, this is a little like how the disciples felt when Jesus washed their feet. Humbled. So greatly humbled that for just a minute, everything is in perspective and becomes a little clearer. And maybe, just maybe, they were filled with deep gratitude for this simple act of kindness, performed by this friend they loved so much.

Bob Rice

Catholic speaker, musician, author, teacher

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