Why Keep Going? Musings on continuing a doctorate

Jenny Hill

“Why are you getting your doctorate?” 

“You’re nuts!”

“I’d never do that.”

I’m two years into the process of pursuing my doctorate and when I hear comments like these, they make me pause and consider:

  • My dwindling bank account, rising tuition costs, and unsubsidized loans.
  • The crippling fatigue I feel when the week is over. I’ve just worked 40+ hours, completed coursework in the evening, and tried to juggle relationships.
  • The nakedness of my ring finger.
  • My house that looks like a neglected child: dishes in the sink, piles of laundry, and a continually barren refrigerator.  My bathroom looks like a crime scene.

I try to “read for fun,” but my brain is too over-stimulated to take in more information.  I show up at church exhausted, madly scribbling notes on the back of a bulletin for my next paper or post, rushing out the door after being dismissed to finish my homework before another week begins. When people ask me how classes went this summer, my honest answer is always, “I sat at my computer and cried.” Following a research course I took, I discovered that many revisions needed to be made on my dissertation proposal. This process seemed endless and the task felt lonely and repetitive: write, eat, sleep, repeat. As these words fall from my lips, my mind is confronted with the obvious question, “Why keep going?”

Beyond career advancement, the exploration of my potential, and the realization of my dreams, there is something special about this journey. The uniqueness is something other than seeking fancy letters after my name, being addressed as Dr. Hill, or the excuse to dress like Harry Potter on commencement day. What is precious about this journey are those quiet, tender moments along the way when I’ve fallen more in love with God. 

It happens often in the evening when I’m sitting at my computer and two ideas suddenly come crashing together bringing insight that I’ve never held before. In those moments, I’m delighted by the treasure of new knowledge, but I’m also reminded that intellect and insight is not built solely by human determination; it is a gift from God.

It happens when I’m busy trying to juggle all the demands of life and school without dropping a ball. This can feel isolating, so I’m thankful when people invite me to dinner or ask how things are going. It helps me notice that God sees me in my struggle and is showing his loving kindness towards me through his people.

It happens when I’m not sure how I will be paying for my next class and a check arrives in the mail or I am offered supplemental employment. God is a God who provides.

There are moments when I pause to consider the length of my program and wonder how I will endure it for years to come, let alone finish my assignments this week. Longsuffering is not so high up on my list of the fruits of the Spirit I’d like to see developed in my life (couldn’t I just have joy and peace?), but long suffering is the one being overwhelmingly produced. I have often asked God, “Why?” but have come to trust that he, everlasting God, will sustain me.

It happens when I’m tired and choose to rest. Pausing throughout graduate school because of the weight of its demands has become an invitation to loosen my grip on productivity, so I can be gripped by the One who wants to produce something in me. It’s accepting that when I am empty, I am in prime position to be filled. God is the one who gives me rest.

But here is something else I remember. And it gives me hope. The Lord loves us very much. So we haven’t been completely destroyed.  His loving concern never fails. His great love is new every morning. Lord, how faithful you are!  Lamentations 3:21-23 (NIRV)

Jenny Hill (@Bibliophile84) received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from St. Cloud State University and is currently working towards her Ed. D. and administrative license through Bethel University, St. Paul, MN.  She is an elementary school library media specialist.  She blogs weekly about disability and spirituality at http://jwalkinguphill.blogspot.com.

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