Competitiveness and the Creator

(Reposted with permission from Dr. Corey Latta, scholar, teacher, author, poet, minister, and friend.)

I’ve found that in academia, writing, and in ministry (most all other areas of life fit this bill, too) a thick cloud of competitiveness hovers over everything. One writer feels injured by the publications of another. The size of one Pastor’s church becomes the envy of ministers from neighboring churches. We see the teaching jobs our peers land as the jobs we didn’t get.

There are several ingredients to this kind of unhealthy competition. A pinch of insecurity, a dash of ambition, an ounce of misplaced identity, three cups of pride.

Unless the scholar, the writer, or the minister is ready to face these vices and flaws within himself, the problem of being unhealthily competitive will only compound as each new day will, to the “injured” artist or cleric, mean some new rejection.

I do think, beyond what goes into toxic competitiveness, which is a kind of self love, we might best fight this ego driven impulse with the kind of deliberate generosity only found in an othered directed love. Specifically, a love for two objects: the Creator and the created.

I must remind myself that I create because the Creator made me to. And that to begrudge the rewards or celebrate the failures of someone else’s art is to trod on the gift of creativity, and more importantly, the great gift Giver. I must love the Father of creativity. And if I love the Creator, I’ll see my fellow scholars, writers, and ministers not as competitors but as cocreators, laborers in the same union, members of the same guild, coinheritors of creation. This is generosity, and it should be the aim of every artist.

And with creation itself—from the academic article to the novel to the sermon—I must remain enamored. Only when we love the created will we celebrate those who create. It’s our love for good writing that will free us from selfish jealousy of who wrote it. It’s our desire to see universities filled with good scholars and teachers that will prompt us to praise God when another scholar fills that academic post that we eyed.

Love the Creator and His subcreators. Champion the created, being particularly mindful to rejoice over creations from others’ hands. And from love for God and for your cocreaters, do the kind of good, steady, unique work that only you were made to do.

Ultimately, it’s the act of creating itself, done in love, that will do the transformative work of turning the self-stained rags of competitiveness into the divine fleece of generosity.

Lessons from Father Abraham

Genesis 12 begins the story of Abram, a man called by God to undertake a difficult journey to a foreign land with limited instructions and little detail.

Abram (Abraham) ended up listening and obeying God. He had his faith tested and strengthened along the way and was ultimately used by God to build a great nation, Israel, through whom God revealed and accomplished salvation for all peoples.

Like Abraham, adult learners are called by God to take a difficult journey through uncharted territory for the eventual benefit of the peoples we are called to serve. We have a lot in common with Abraham.

a. Abraham’s call initially consisted of only one set of directions (Genesis 12:1):  go. It’s alright for us not to see the full picture of our educational journey. We “go” one class at a time, trusting God to lead us along the way.

b. The call required courage. Abraham came to understand the limits of his cognitive understanding. Similarly, intellectual work challenges us and forces us to reckon with what we don’t know as we arrive at a place of deeper wisdom and insight.

c. The call required obedience. Abraham wrestled with some of God’s commands (see Gen. 22). While God does not call us to a blind obedience to everything a professor tells us, we are expected to run the race set before us. This includes reading and following a syllabus!

d. The call involved his family. Abraham’s family was implicated in all that his journey entailed. We, too, have family, friends, and communities who partner with us in the good and bad we experience. We are not alone – and this can be both an encouragement and an ongoing responsibility that tests our strength.

e. The call requires sacrifice. Abraham yielded his time and stood to lose his earthly wealth in fulfilling his call. Similarly, we’re making an investment in God’s Kingdom by investing in our degrees. This means we sometimes forego other opportunities and pleasures in pursuit of God’s call.

f. The call was ultimately not about Abraham. Although he experienced the blessings of obeying God, Abraham’s story is really less about Abraham and more about how God was using Abraham to serve others. Our academic credentials are really tools for service. We should never lose sight of those we’re called to serve.

You didn’t think you had much in common with Abraham, did you? Are there are other biblical characters from whom you can draw encouragement along your journey?

Servant Leadership

Servant leadership and Christian ideology go hand in hand. I would like to pose two questions you can ask yourself to help test if you are leading in an area fundamental to our faith.

When faced with a dilemma in your workplace or classroom, do you find yourself saying that is not my problem he/she can handle this or do you communicate with others on how you can help in solving this issue? A servant leader desires to work with others for resolution.

Can you say to yourself after a certain time period in your life that you’ve grown, become more independent, and feel a sense of peace afterward Servant leaders gain true peace by understanding that Christ served them first and they want to lead by this example and therefore gain independence and peace.

Being a servant leader means jumping in and being willing to help in all circumstances without thought of self-promotion or gratification.  These will occur organically but fall short when intentions are insincere. Servant leaders are humble in their quest for knowledge, which leads to growth, independence, and freedom.

 

 

Never Stop Learning

Not long ago I was reading a book with my colleagues called The Trust Edge by David Horsager. In this, the author suggested the key competency of our time is to be in a perpetual state of learning (2009). When I read this statement I thought, well sure, we live in the information age, this just naturally kind of occurs for us. But, the more I thought about this, the more I was challenged by it. Soon, I began to shift my thinking to being intentional about learning.

As adult learners, we are typically in class year round. No longer do we have the benefit of long summer breaks like we had as kids. Instead, while we are plowing through work and home life, we are also studying. Whether you are in class now, thinking of going back to school, or maybe just graduated, consider this: there truly should be no end to learning.

One of the areas Horsager suggested in which we can learn outside the classroom is through mentorship. What comes to your mind when you think of a mentor? The traditional image is often of a young person being mentored by an adult…someone who has been around the block and has some wisdom to impart. In the business world, however, mentors can look a bit different – a trusted colleague, a professor, or a business associate. Consider finding someone in your life with whom you can be brutally honest, and with whom you can take constructive criticism. Then, begin to cultivate that relationship. It’s going to require an intentional effort on your part – meeting for coffee, setting and keeping regular accountability times, and the willingness to learn from someone else.

Having been involved in several mentoring relationships in my life, I can honestly say it is both a challenging and rewarding experience. In some of these relationships, I may have started out as the mentor, but found myself often as the mentee. I learned from others as they were challenged by obstacles or presented with opportunities and grew both emotionally and spiritually.

Maybe you are at a point in your life where you feel you can help someone else learn from your experiences or skill set. Reach out, volunteer your time to organizations through your local Chambers of Commerce, Boys and Girls Club or Men/Women’s support groups – there are many out there – but the point is to be intentional about your involvement. And, just like me, I’m betting that while you may set out to be the mentor, you may find yourself changed for the better in the process.

Perhaps Walt Disney captured it best when he said, “always be in a constant state of becoming” (Horsager, 2009, p.127). In other words, never feel like you have made it. Instead, begin to tell yourself there is always more out there to learn.

 

Reference

Horsager, D. (2009). The Trust Edge. New York, NY: Free Press.

From Typical to Exceptional: One Student’s Journey

I met Sheilah at the Dalton (Georgia) Business Expo several years ago. As an admission representative for Belhaven’s Dalton and Chattanooga campuses, I’ve heard many of the “typical” reasons adults give for returning to school. Sheilah’s reasons seemed typical. She had been debating the idea of going back to school for several years. She was motivated to earn her college degree by the need to become more proficient in her work and the desire to be an example to her daughter. As with many adults contemplating college, she was somewhat unsure of her academic abilities and more unsure of how school was going to fit into her busy life. A few days later, I was pleased to receive Sheilah’s application and then later, to welcome her to the Belhaven family at orientation…a typical beginning.

So, when do typical beginnings lead to exceptional outcomes? The answer to that question is probably multi-faceted. However, it seems to me that the key to exceptional student performance lies somewhere near the intersection of a talented faculty, supportive staff, and a student’s dogged desire to overcome all obstacles standing in the way of success. Here’s Sheilah’s path to “exceptional” (shared with her permission):

She started her journey with a good decision. Sheilah tells me that returning to school was one of the best decisions she ever made. It wasn’t easy. She wrestled to overcome a difficult past and a lack of confidence in her ability to do college-level work. Now, as a graduate, Sheilah feels that returning to school has greatly increase her confidence in academic work, in her job, and in life. If you ask her, she will tell you that finding the road to success isn’t all that complicated. For Sheilah, it began with one good decision.

She recognized that the difficulties of her past could actually define her future calling. Sheilah writes “I spent a lot of my life caught up in my addiction to drugs and alcohol with no relationship with God. Now I can use my experience to help others recover from the disease of addiction.” Rather than allowing her past struggles to keep her down, she saw them as an opportunity to be a blessing to others.

She allowed herself to grow spiritually. According to Sheilah, Belhaven’s focus on Christian worldview has expanded her understanding and belief in God. It’s obvious to me that students who allow God’s word to influence them while they’re with us are those who make an exceptional impact when they graduate. As a Level 2 Certified Addiction Counselor (with a Belhaven degree and Christian worldview!), Sheilah’s work will result in the healing of many struggling individuals, thus bringing about “kingdom” transformation in their families, communities, and organizations.

Sheilah graduated summa cum laude last December, was inducted into the Alpha Sigma Lambda honor society and was selected as one of our campus’s three Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges honorees. These are all exceptional outcomes, but, of course, exceptional doesn’t mean exclusive. Many adult students move from “typical” to “exceptional.” Those students, who like Sheilah, make the “good decision” to start the journey, see the past as a guide to the future, and allow God’s work to speak into their lives, will succeed as students and represent Belhaven well as graduates – like Sheilah.

 

In Times of Struggle

At times, we find out that we are in over our heads. Something happens that complicates your life and you find that the camel cannot hold the one extra straw that was placed on its back. This past week, I found out where my breaking point was. We had an injury within the family, and I have become the designated care giver for someone who is usually strong and resilient. The tasks that were normally performed by this individual have fallen to me, but my daily tasks have not lessened and I am now doing the work of two.

Time is always working against me now. There is never enough time to complete everything that is required of me. And things that I want to do are pushed way down on the list. I have had to come up with a way to prioritize my tasks so that the more important things get done. Unimportant wants are left until time is in abundance. I have found that for a few weeks, I have not been able to do anything that I want to do. I have only had time for the necessaries.

This trial will most likely last for a little while. And in that time, my hope is to tread water. The tasks that I can push off will get done when there is time, and the important will continue to be at the top of the to-do list. As things go on, it becomes easier. It is as though God gives more strength and endurance if I just take the next step in front of me.

I have known those who live their life this way. Many of whom have had life thrust upon them instead of being able to choose how to live. If you are in that boat, know that you are not alone, and know that God has a special grace for you in this time. Many people struggle with the day to day, but God gives strength to those who need it. Especially those who are studying for a degree. Just ask God for his Grace. He will help you through!

Student Outcomes vs. Student Processes

When you first expressed interest in going back to school… a lot of your focus was more than likely on all the steps, processes, and commitments needed to finalize your enrollment. Although all of these steps are necessary and essential phases of the enrollment process, it’s so important to remember that you must ultimately focus your energy on the outcome versus the processes …the WHY of finishing your degree. Now, as you are sitting in class as a student, your focus is likely on your individual assignments, class meetings, and tests that you must complete in order to move toward your ultimate outcome, graduation!

Think back to the time you initially expressed interest… what made you apply to school? What is your ultimate goal or confirmed need for you pursuing your degree? Consider what your future looks like- both with and without finishing your degree. Can you still achieve your ultimate goal and change your life if you do not finish your degree? Can you still see the value of your education?  Continue to remember your WHY of enrolling … and focus on your end result and outcome.  Staying focused on your end result…and what’s truly in this for you… is something all adult learners need to revisit when they want to quit or give up… because focusing on the end of this race, versus the tiresome miles along the way in this race… can be overwhelming… but the end is nearer than you think…and the outcome will be totally worth it… you can do this… focus on the finish line!

Discovery is a huge part of an adult learner’s ability to commit to finishing their education. You must know why you are doing this… you  must know what is going to change (for the better) when you finish, you must know what the outcome of all of this will be… so that you can make a decision, move forward, commit and finish.  If you haven’t thought about this in a while… or ever, I would encourage you to pause, self-reflect and soul-search to discover for yourself your WHY for all of this.  Remind yourself that your current self-sacrifice will get you to your next step in your life… and ultimately…all of these processes will lead to your outcome… of completing your degree. Focusing on the outcome makes the big picture less daunting and the processes along the way, a little easier to accomplish!

Next time you start to think about the date your next class will start… change your thought process on how close you are to finishing this degree and the date for your graduation ceremony! Think long term and think about where you want to go from the finish line… after all… the end of this…is just the beginning!

SPRING… a time of renewal

 

 

Spring is a time of renewal. The earth is being renewed after the cold of winter. The temperatures are warmer, and the colors of the budding and blooming flowers, trees, and other plants are beautiful to see after the dullness of the winter landscape.

Renewal.

Becoming new again.

Refreshing what was tired and weary.

I love spring because of the promise it brings of brighter days and replenished energy. I don’t know about you, but it has been a long winter for me. I am ready for the newness of the seasonal change.

If you are one of our adult students, I’m sure you need encouragement for the journey you are on. It sometimes seems like a long road. I also know that feeling. I was an adult student myself as a single parent and know the struggles of trying to balance family, job, school, church, etc.  I also know the satisfaction of completing the goals I set for myself.

As you consider where you are on your road, remember why you started this journey. What were the reasons you wanted to complete your degree? Take a deep breath. You are doing it! Look ahead and see the finish line is up ahead.

Are you weary? Have you asked God to refresh you? He will give you the strength and focus you need to continue. Just ask Him. Don’t look back. Look up and in front of you! Your goal is within reach if you don’t give up.

God bless you as you move forward, my friends.                 

Who are you serving?

Have you ever observed someone who is really wealthy, really smart, or really gifted, and think, “It must be nice being that person. They’re their own boss!”

There’s a great song by Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” which contains the following lyrics:

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Dylan’s song expresses a timeless truth: everyone serves somebody.

One of the dangers of achieving higher education is growing prideful and forgetting who we are and Who we’re called to serve.

Philippians 2:6-8 (NIV) reminds us that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

Let’s remember that our academic achievements are meant to equip us for service in God’s kingdom. Remembering Who we serve keeps us humble, gracious, and patient. It makes us useful in our vocations. It keeps us from serving ourselves.

If we “gotta serve somebody” in our academic pursuits, let it be the Lord!

New Year, New You (and me)

Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. Psalm 116:7 (NIV)

As I think back on the holidays, the stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s feels like a blur. Parties, gift buying and giving, travel, eating and cooking, and did I mention all that wrapping paper to clean up? Whew, just thinking about it makes me tired. It’s easy to feel like we need a vacation after the vacation.

God’s word, however, tells us to rest and be reminded of our blessings. I love how The Message translation captures this:

I said to myself, “Relax and rest. God has showered you with blessings.
Soul, you’ve been rescued from death;
Eye, you’ve been rescued from tears;
And you, Foot, were kept from stumbling” (MSG)

Rest doesn’t only mean physical, but also emotional and spiritual. Sometimes rest means finding a quiet place to reflect and spend time alone with God. Even Jesus urged his disciples to do this. I do not believe this happens by accident, I believe that in order to truly experience rest we must be intentional about it. Yes, I hear you, “Amanda are you saying I have to plan rest into my day”? That is exactly what I am saying. Otherwise, it will fall further and further down on our list of priorities.

Earlier this year our family took the first of what I hope will be many camping trips. There is a picture I snapped during our hike that I come back to in my mind. At a beautiful bend in the trail my daughter found a bench and laid down. She didn’t just briefly sit down, she laid completely flat and stared at the sky. In full surrender and abandonment to everything around her she said, “look at the top of the trees, mom, they are dancing” (referring to them blowing in the wind). I certainly would never have thought to describe them this way, or even to have laid down and looked up mid-hike. But this act of complete and total pause allowed her to see things she might not have seen otherwise. I can’t help but think the Father has so much to show us and tell us if we just stop, look and listen. We can’t do that if we are constantly in motion.

So this year, my resolution is to plan for rest of my mind and my spirit. That may look like starting my day with a devotional at my desk, or with a carved out time on my calendar for prayer or a conversation with God. I’m still working out the details, but the important thing is I am going to be intentional about it.

Students, consider how this intentional quiet time with God can positively impact your studies and the way you approach presentations, class discussions and projects. How do you plan to incorporate this into your life? What spiritual resolution could you consider this year? I would love to see your comments below.

 

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