At long last I have earned my doctoral degree. As I walked onto the stage in my fancy velvet striped robes, I received the symbol of that accomplishment, a colorful hood that was ceremonially placed on my shoulders. I didn’t think I would care this much, but I loved it. The act of bowing my head to allow the mantle to be placed by a university leader was powerful and symbolic for me. I felt honored, special, worthy.
The word “worthy” kept running through my head throughout the evening. It felt as though God wanted to use this event to settle the question of my worth once and for all. I knew that the academic degree wasn’t what makes me worthy, but God seemed to want to press home through this tangible robing and hooding experience, the truth of what he has done for me through the death and resurrection of Christ. My core life doubts always center around “Am I valuable? capable? lovable?” Jesus's obedience of sacrificial death on the cross is the ultimate, resounding “YES” to those recurring questions. Jesus sees me as worth saving, as worth dying for. My life is worth his sacrifice, so I might live in full reconciliation with God. Such a simple truth but so hard to fully grasp and live into.
I’ve worked a long time in an academic setting without the right degree to get me fully respected. My first attempt at a doctoral degree (PhD) was diverted by a happy pregnancy surprise. As I wrestled with the decision about returning to school right away, it became clear that God was willing to use me with or without those credentials, so I dropped out. Eleven years later, I finally decided to finish what I’d started, mostly because God invited me to do so. A fortuitous plane ride with a chatty academic planted the idea and within a few months I was back on track to become Dr. Gartland. This round was for a practical but less prestigious clinical doctorate, which was a much better fit for my career goals.
I suspect God gets a little tired of my insecurities. He has kingdom work for me to do, and I only waste time when I hold back, question, doubt, and cower. The robes of righteousness were placed on me long ago when I decided to become a Christ follower. But somehow the mantle of confidence and authority I so needed to keep faithful in my work and ministry kept slipping. The real hood placed over my shoulders at commencement came from Jesus. It is Jesus's own hood or mantle of authority, the one that came from the Father. No PhD or clinical doctorate will make me or anyone else truly worthy. Only Jesus Christ can do that. Jesus showed up at the ceremony to remind me of his love for me and to tell me to get back to work. I imagine him saying to me, “So are we good now? Have you finally got this?”
My hood is salmon colored velvet, with purple and gold satin lining. Its presence in my spare closet will remind me of that powerful graduation ritual and of God’s message to me within that experience. In jeans and a t-shirt or in full academic regalia, Christ has declared me worthy. Worthy to serve him, worthy to draw near to him, worthy to be transformed into his likeness. Amen.