Looks like I’ve not blogged for over 7 months! A lot has happened in the meantime; I’ve written my thesis & passed my viva, which means I’ll be becoming a ‘Dr’ :D. The PhD has been a very difficult journey for me, which has stretched me to the limits, but by God’s grace I’ve been able to persevere & overcome. I believe that God has used my PhD as a training ground, particularly to prepare me for pioneering new things for His kingdom (which I write about in No holding back: http://wp.me/p2Vhue-3Q). This blog entry is a summary of the main things I’ve learned through my PhD.
One of the main things I struggled with during my PhD was that I was getting very little breakthrough in my experiments; most my efforts seemed to be fruitless. Over a year ago there was a moment when I was crying out to God, asking Him why I’ve not had a breakthrough yet. His answer was that He was teaching me humility & submission! My thought was ‘ouch’! & then He reminded me of Habakkuk 3:17-19 (ESV):
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail & the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold & there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places.”
These verses challenge me to rejoice in God, even when my greatest efforts are fruitless & the circumstances seem hopeless. It requires humility to ‘give thanks in all circumstances'; even when God’s ways don’t seem to make sense. The key seems to be to not look to our circumstances for happiness but to find joy in God alone. Which is much easier to say than do! It has been tough to keep pouring my life into this PhD when my heart was no longer in it. But eventually I found that my joy was not dependent on achieving anything, feeling that my work is meaningful, or even in having my needs met- what really mattered was whether I was close to God. When I am close to Him, I find supernatural strength, ability & an overcoming spirit, so that whatever ‘mountain’ comes my way no longer overwhelms me but it’s under me & I tread on it! When we take on His challenge to ‘come away’ with Him to climb mountains of difficulties (Song of Solomon 2:13), we find that He endows us with His ability to bound up the mountains.
So what is humility? I believe real humility is to have confidence in God rather than in ourselves. Some people may think that humility means being weak, but actually I’ve found that being truly humble is empowering. Pride often involves keeping up appearances, which can hold you back from expressing the real you. But humility empowers you to be yourself & do daring things, as you no longer give a damn what people think of you! In order to deal with my pride, God had to change my sense of identity & worth. I used to base my worth largely on my achievements & what people thought of me, so when I was not achieving & not gaining the approval of my supervisors it really got to me. But when I learned to find my identity in being loved unconditionally by God, then I gained a new confidence that wasn’t shaken so much by circumstances. & I found that when I quit trying to prove myself, then God started to prove me- I gained new favour from people.
My old sense of identity not only resulted in pride, but also led to dashed hopes. Whenever I saw a glimmer of hope in my experiments or love life I pinned all my hopes up on this, & it was often devastating when these hopes kept getting dashed. It’s important to have hope, but I’ve realised that you should be careful what you base your hope on. If your hopes are birthed from a desperation to be loved or for people to think highly of you, then those hopes will fail you. But if your hopes are rooted in knowing God’s unfailing love, then these hopes are un-dashable. But to find these un-dashable hopes, I needed to find healing from these previous dashed hopes. The memories of my hopes being dashed held me back; I was scared to go all in with my PhD, in case I fell into despair again. My Mum felt that Psalm 86:17 was a word from God for me, & that my ‘enemies’ refer to my disappointments: “Give me a sign of Your goodness, that my enemies may see it & be put to shame, for You, O Lord, have helped me & comforted me.” This really spoke to me, showing me that God’s favour & comfort will put my dashed hopes to shame. I also held onto Psalm 126:5-6, which reminded me that though my efforts have been painful yet joy will come, & it will be worth it in the end.
I also started to learn what submission to God really looked like. Submission is something I find very difficult, & I’m still learning. But I’ve found that submitting to God has helped me to deal with life so much better, & brought so much joy. I believe the motive of true submission is love; we obey God even when it’s a sacrifice because of our love for Him. When I started writing my thesis, I was challenged to seek first God’s kingdom & His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), which meant that I put God first rather than my thesis. Writing a thesis tends to take over your life, & it did for me at times, but it was not my number one priority in my life. Though I did not have time to be engaged in lots of ‘ministry’ at this time, I was faithful in what God had called me to do, though outwardly it did not appear to be that much. I’m the kind of person who likes to do lots of things, particularly things that allow me to spend time with people &/or make a difference. But I felt God had told me to concentrate on being rather than doing, & that I needed to cut down on the things I do when writing my thesis. That felt like quite a sacrifice for me, but I realised that God had called me to write this thesis for His glory, & doing too many other things (that He didn’t call me to do) would distract me, drain my energy, & cause me not to give my best for what He had called me to do at that time. I was challenged (& still am challenged) to live my life as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1), & as ironic as it sounds, I’ve found that being a sacrifice has felt very rewarding!
So what does seeking first God’s kingdom look like when most your time is spent working by yourself, & you don’t leave the house that much? I realised that prayer is the most important part of advancing God’s kingdom. & when I say prayer, I mean proper battling & persevering in prayer, with the focus of your prayers being ‘Your kingdom come; Your will be done’ (Matthew 6:10). I’ve always struggled with praying regularly & consistently, but when my mindset was to put first God’s kingdom, I was compelled to pray & keep praying. & when I started to pray regularly with this passion, believing that my prayers are powerful, I was transformed. My prayers became very bold & anointed, I became much more spirit-led & courageous, & I started to really bless some of my friends. & I found that as I made God’s kingdom my top priority & focus, God gave me the focus & drive I needed for my work. & believe me, I would not have been able to sustain the motivation & intense focus required for writing my thesis without God. I actually enjoyed writing my thesis for the first 3 months; though it was hard work I did enjoy drawing everything together & making a story out of it. Not only did God give me focus & passion for my thesis, but He gave me the ability to handle the stress very well, as spending time with Him each day gave me peace for my soul. I don’t work well under stress at all, so this reduction in stress really helped me to work to the best of my ability. I worked very hard when I was writing my thesis; though I did not work an excessive number of hours & always had a day of rest each week, when I did get my head down to work I was usually very productive with my time & maximised the hours that I did spend working. This was very useful, as it allowed me to take adequate rest, & the balance of work & rest allowed me to sustain high levels of working for the 4 months. & it also meant that I had time to really commit to my main life group; despite being busy writing my thesis I still was able to go the extra mile in contributing to the group & supporting the other members. This enabled me to find an even deeper sense of belonging than I had ever experienced before, & being in this group really helped me to grow & to be sustained as I was writing my thesis.
Once I finished writing my thesis, it has been tough to maintain the same focus on God I had, as it was much easier to get distracted when I didn’t have such a big, important task to complete. But it has been wonderful to be free of the thesis; in the last month of thesis writing I was so sick of the thesis & really wanted to ‘get rid of it’ :P. I’ve had chance to rest & recover & do different things that I didn’t have much time for. But then I had to prepare for my viva, & it was really tough to find the motivation to look at my thesis again after all the ordeal I had with my PhD. But I felt God say to me that I have to be willing to sacrifice again, & that being a living sacrifice is not just for a season, but it should be a constant thing. So I got my head down to revise for the viva, & it was very tough at first. With other things also going on, I started to feel that my burden was becoming too much. But I went on an inner healing course, & was reminded that we should serve out of love for God, not in order to gain a reward. This hit home, as I realised that I was seeking to do well in my viva to have something to show for 4 years of hard work, frustration & struggle, i.e. to get some kind of reward. But I realised that I should be doing it for God, to bring glory to Him, & therefore the outcome shouldn’t matter so much. & then the pressure just went right off. The viva had been such a big deal for me all these years, & something I had always been dreading, so I was amazed at how un-stressed I was on the last few days before the viva!! & on the morning of the viva, I was full of joy & worshipping God! I started to feel nervous when I reached campus though. My supervisor gave me a pep talk beforehand, which started with ‘it’ll be gruelling, but it’ll be over!’ :P. Which was very true; the viva was very intense, & I didn’t enjoy it; I couldn’t wait for it to be over. But I managed to perform much better than I expected, & the examiners said that I did a good job at defending my work. & by the grace of God I passed :D.
I expected to be so happy after passing my viva, but it didn’t happen; I needed some time to recover from of the ordeal of my viva. & honestly, though becoming a Dr is a big achievement on an intellectual level, to me it paled in comparison to how much I have grown & overcome within myself during the PhD. I’m so grateful to God for all He has done, & how He’s enabled me to discover potential in me far beyond what I could have imagined. It’s been a long painful journey, but also one that’s led me to find fullness of joy.
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126:5-6 (ESV).