“During my PhD program I felt a call from God to speak into my discipline from the perspective of faith and into the Church from the perspective of my discipline, but neither community wants to hear from me.”
These words from my professor friend summarize a reality for many Christian faculty that’s come to be known as double loneliness. It’s the experience of being marginalized, misunderstood, or not appreciated in a discipline, department, or institution when one’s faith influences teaching, research, and service in the university. At the same time faculty don’t feel fully at home — accepted, understood, and affirmed — by their faith communities who don’t value their academic work and see the liberal university as an enemy to be conquered or are suspicious of any “truth” which emerges from it or both. Rather than living integrated lives, many faculty members become divided selves operating in multiple spheres perpetuating a secular-sacred split way of being in the world.
Many of us grow up in the faith with the idea that when God calls us to something the way will be easy — or at least not complicated or full of opposition. When things get tough our instinct then might be to question the call or assume God must be moving us on to something else as if being “in the center of God’s will” always means smooth sailing, a certain degree of comfort, and victory over our various enemies. Discernment can be tricky. We believe God provides what we need for the things he has called us to. So how do we interpret difficulty? In the case of my faculty friend, the temptation was to believe she’d heard incorrectly, abandon the call to speak prophetically into the two worlds of which she is a part, and just “go along to get along.” Challenges, even roadblocks, are an invitation to assess what we are doing and why, but aren’t necessarily an offramp.
Eugene Peterson speaks so helpfully to this in Run with the Horses, his book on the life of Jeremiah. When discussing all the setbacks Jeremiah was recounting to God, Peterson says the following (italics mine):
Priorities are re-established in prayer. It makes all the difference in the world whether God is in the first place or the second. Who is in the first place here? God or the people? If it is God who is in the first place, the complaints express only what is involved in a tough job. The job is either worth doing or it is not. What do I really want to do with my life, love others or flatter them, please others or please God?
Regardless of the setting, these words remind us that sometimes God calls us to hard things and when our work or ministry or relationships get difficult our first impulse shouldn’t be to jump ship and move on, but to allow God to speak into the situation, align our priorities, and make certain his call. Sometimes he leads us to other things, but many times the invitation is to persevere.
Peterson also reminds us that it’s in prayer these things get sorted out. In prayer we are reminded who God is and who we are. We need to hear from God. We need God's perspective on our situation and we need to hear his call again in the present moment.
Finding a community (even a small one) to be with us and cheer us on is also critical to persevering in challenging vocations, but this can be a challenge of its own. Some have found “kindred spirits” in their institutions or companies. Others have found them in Christian organizations like Christian Legal Society, Christian Medical and Dental Association, or the American Scientific Affiliation. Still others have been surprised to develop spiritually meaningful connections with people they’ve met at professional meetings. I know one woman who developed a friendship with someone she met at an annual academic conference. Over the years they have become prayer partners, praying weekly with one another over the phone and arriving early at the conference each year to meet and pray together. For faculty and graduate students, particularly, InterVarsity has a number of places where this can happen. (Check out all the options here.) Ask God to bring these people into your sphere of relationships. Keep your eyes and ears open so you will recognize them when he does.
Connecting women to God and to one another for critical support and encouragement is at the heart of the work of Women Scholars and Professionals. We’d love to help you connect with a friend in your field or geographical area. One place connections happen is in the gatherings we host. Check out our Events page to see what is happening this semester. It’s been a privilege to lead weekly virtual prayer meetings the past couple of years for women faculty, graduate students, and professionals and see this kind of support develop among those who take part.
The quote I shared at the start of this article is part of a longer comment made at the end of one of our prayer times. Each week as we’ve prayed together, my faculty friend and the others have met God and been reinvigorated in their love for him and his calling on their lives. It has encouraged them to persevere, to continue in meaningful engagement in their various spheres for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom.
“During my PhD program I felt a call from God to speak into my discipline from the perspective of faith and into the Church from the perspective of my discipline, but neither community wants to hear from me. The experience I have had in these weekly prayer meetings has been remarkable. I always find myself leaving satisfied.”
The connection to regular time in prayer and the reorientation she experienced is not a fluke. In Run with the Horses, Peterson goes on to say:
“Resolve is essential, but not enough. In prayer, God provides renewal. Prayer is not so much the place where we learn something new, but where God confirms anew the faith to which we are committed.”
Are you feeling lonely in your call or facing challenges these days that make you want to abandon ship and try something else? Take heart — you are not alone. Jesus, of course, is always with you and your people are out there. We’d be happy to help you find them.
Photo by Bob Richards on StockSnap