By Carmen Joy Imes

How to Eat an Elephant

(Confession time) I’m hyperventilating in my study carrel, looking at all that must be done this summer to stay on track in my doctoral program. You may not be a doctoral student, but I wager you have too much to do and not enough time, just like me.

As a mom of three school-aged children just wrapping up my first year of PhD studies, time has never been more precious. I never intended to pursue a doctorate while my kids were so small, but as one door after another opened and each barrier melted away, my husband and I had the unmistakable sense that now was the time to embark on this journey. And so we did. Most days I love it, but on occasion I lose sight of all the miracles it took to get here and stress takes over.

A dear friend just sent me this note:

I hate to say it, but I’m glad to hear you struggle with getting stressed too :) You usually seem so calm to me and like things are very under control. So it’s good to know you are normal :) But I hope you can relax and know that everything will get done somehow, and know the Lord is sovereign over everything, including your time! I am trying to learn this myself.

A great reminder. If God called me here (and he did!), then he will see me through.

I’ve spent the whole morning taking stock of what I need to do, prioritizing, counting days, and dividing it all out. Winging it is not going to work very well. I need to know exactly what I must do today so that I can fit it all in. Knowing what I have to do will also (theoretically) keep me from being stressed about how much more there is to do. Better to let tomorrow worry about itself.

What, you ask, could be so daunting?

  • learning to read French (and reading 80 pages in French for my dissertation)
  • reading 240 pages in German (for my dissertation)
  • reading 3855 pages (for a fall seminar, a summer class, and my comprehensive reading list)
  • writing 12 assignments and taking one exam for a summer class at Notre Dame
  • skimming 24 other books from the comprehensive reading list
  • researching and writing one full chapter of my dissertation and part of another (about 60 pages total)
  • reading through the entire Bible, finding relevant texts for my dissertation

Too much for one summer? I’m inclined to agree with you, but all I can do is try.

So, for the month of May I will attempt to . . .

  • write the partial chapter of my dissertation (10 pages)
  • do 2 lessons a day from my French book
  • read 33 pages a day from my current Comps book
  • read 15 chapters a day from the Bible
  • translate 3 pages a day of German
  • skim 6 books
  • and do as much other reading as possible

That almost sounds relaxing.

After all, no one could eat an elephant in one sitting. But as the saying goes, if it’s eaten one bite at a time, it can be done, and it might even be nourishing!

May you have a nourishing summer.

Divide and conquer . . . one bite at a time

Oh . . . and if anyone wants to join me on the Bible read-through this summer, click here for the checklist I’m using to pace myself. Let me know if you’re on board!

About the Author

Carmen Joy Imes (PhD, Wheaton) is associate professor of Old Testament in the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, she is the author of Bearing YHWH's Name at Sinai, Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, Being God's Image: Why Creation Still Matters, and the editor of Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends.

Imes has written for a variety of websites, including Christianity Today, The Well, and the Politics of Scripture blog. She is a fellow of Every Voice, a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. Imes and her husband, Daniel, have followed God's call around the globe together for over 25 years.

Read Carmen's article on being God's image as a woman in the academy and the church.

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