Engaging in a New Discipline

Writing is something that I enjoyed before seminary.

If you’ve been reading you can tell that editing doesn’t same the appeal. It’s hard for me to go back and read my work and figure out what I want to change. Taking things out hurts, putting things in is too easy, and the process doesn’t hold a lot of pleasure for me. Editing is a dentists office, you know you need to go, but you never really want to know what’s coming on your way there.

Seminary forced me to edit a little, but most professors received last minute papers that came together in less time than the papers and the professors deserved. If they had a glancing edit, it was done 5 minutes before go time. Procrastinating is an art they say, but now I’m ready to say that I don’t want to procrastinate anymore.

I know why I procrastinated.

It was an excuse. If I don’t get the grade I want I know I could write a better paper. If there are mistakes, it’s simply because I didn’t put the time in. My self, who I am, was never really on the line, and at seminary that buffer was something I needed. Because what I wanted more than anything in the world was to impress my professors and colleagues. Grades were the symbols of approval and confirmation that my thoughts and thought processes and my articulation of my thoughts were all worth while.

It’s a lot of weight to put on your first 7 page paper for a professor.

But there it was, that happy little 80 sitting above my first paper that I thought was brilliant.

Even the professor writing into his syllabus that a ‘B’ in his class was Ph.D. quality work didn’t help. An ‘A’ would have let me know that I not only have Ph.D. quality work but I have good insight. Nope, my insight is crap and my writing isn’t much better. I could never get that attention that I craved.

That was the first semester, I improved as I went, but not as much as I would have liked. I threw myself at the hardest classes with the highest expectations and struggled every bit of the way. But most of my papers were graded by preceptors, and my last semester at Duke they’d be graded by professors.

I wanted to impress these guys more than you can imagine. Paul Griffiths is a genius who teaches about Augustine in such beautiful intricacy that maybe only a few people in the entire world can appreciate fully, and the part that I appreciated was enough to keep me enthralled. Randy Maddox is a man of such precision and organization that he would be intimidating alone for those qualities, but he is also the best if not one of the best methodist theologians in the world. He was the doctoral advisor for the professors that teach methodism at several other great seminaries.

And there I sat, in a seminar with Paul Griffiths on Augustine and an independent study with Randy Maddox. Did I mention that these two are incredibly kind and gracious in addition to brilliant. They are humble and understanding about everything, and I know the pressure I felt was all from me as I sat with Randy Maddox and a Doctoral Student talking about the book we’d read for the week.

But that pressure caused me some problems.

As it got down to writing time for those two classes, nothing could do, nothing I could say seemed good enough. Nothing.

Two panic attacks later, I sat in the office with a counselor trying to figure out my problem. It was clearly stress, but I swam and ran enough to handle the stress of 3 people, and at this point I couldn’t think of writing without nausea and a constricting mass around my chest.

I made it through, I wrote the papers and even managed an ‘A’ in Paul’s class which made me deliriously happy. But I’d lost the joy of writing.

So, here I sit: Trying to recover the joy and magic of putting pen to page, Trying to recover the fun of putting my ideas out there. But more than that, I’m trying to learn to write in ways that I appreciate with my style with my thoughts and not what I think will impress my professors.

It’s been over a month this week since I started writing a post a day. I told myself I’d try for a week, and I could stop tomorrow quite happily. This is my attempt to write as me, and I may even be able to start editing a little. How would that be fore engaging in a new discipline?


About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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