PhD Reflection: Surround Yourself with Better

I am experiencing a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment knowing that the people around me are going to make me better over the next few years.

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I am supposed to be working on my PhD thesis. However, I just finished a meeting with my doctoral supervisor and wanted to jot a thought or two.

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In the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, it doesn’t take long to realize that you are just one of many. I had to quickly face the fact that I am not one of the smartest people here (understatement!). You don’t come to a place like this to rule the roost. But I find that there is great peace and joy in confessing this truth. I am here to learn. I am here to grow. I am here to get better. I am here to make connections. I am here to prepare for what God has planned. Besides, being the best is not what this is about. Rather, I want to maximize the abilities that God has given me. This is about faithfulness and preparation.

Regarding intelligence, you may think that I am referring to various professors and lecturers. I am, but my comments are not restricted to that group. I have met several PhD candidates that are several steps ahead of me from a theological perspective. Because my past education is in psychology and philosophy, I have some catching up to do. On the other hand, all of our projects are different, so there is nothing wrong with having different areas of expertise.

Today my supervisor sat with me and discussed my work for over an hour. It always amazes me when he takes this much time to discuss my research. The dialogue is always challenging, stimulating, and enjoyable. It is also humbling. I told my wife the other day, “If I studied the next ten years, I don’t think that I would know as much as this guy.” He is that intelligent and articulate. But this brings me to the main point of this blog: I am experiencing a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment knowing that the people around me are going to make me better over the next few years. To get better (no matter whether you are speaking of a skill, virtue, intimacy with God, etc.), you need people around you that are better than you in that specific area. Now, I could feel insecure and threatened. If I let insecurity rule, it would steal the opportunity to glean from those around me. And notice I said, “If I let insecurity rule…” I chose this wording on purpose. When you step out of your comfort zone, of course you will experience insecurity at times. But who cares. It is not the end of the world. The question is not, “Will I experience insecurity?” but rather, “Will I let it take control of me or will I set it aside and move forward?”

The bottom line is this:

Better people make you better. 

You can apply this to motherhood, fatherhood, pastoring, teaching, studying, playing a sport, learning a language, starting a church, cooking a new recipe, repairing a car, getting better at your job, etc. You fill in the blank. So you can hold on to your pride if you want. Or, you can put a little humility in your pocket and glean and grow from other people’s strengths.

People Are More Important

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Pride or Relationships?

Your choice.

But you cannot have both. Over the last few days, a man was sharing with me that after years, he finally reconnected with someone in his family. That’s right, years. And the person lived in the same town. You know how the story goes. An offense leads to a few days of silence. Then, the few days turns into a couple of weeks. Before you know it, a month has passed. At this point, you stand at a crossroads. You are in dangerous territory. The longer you wait to make things right with someone, the more humility is required. It becomes more difficult, near impossible. Negative emotions have festered. Negative thoughts have run rampid. The passing of time also makes it easier to convince yourself with impressive, elaborate rationalizations that you really aren’t at fault. He should have to make the move. She started it.

The bottom line: pride takes over. It’s the nature of the beast. I actually mean that literally…it really is the nature of the Beast. Friend, you are not going anywhere in your spiritual life if unforgiveness is in your heart. And do not be so quick to say, “I have already forgiven that person.” We hate feeling negative emotions. The problem is sometimes we are in such a hurry to quit feeling unpleasant emotions that we convince ourselves that we are over it, that we have forgiven someone, while this is not necessarily the case. Out of sight does NOT necessarily imply out of mind. The expression is not accurate. The offense may simply be lying in the subconscious part of your mind.

Jesus teaches His children, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. [15] But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). Ok, so, I am not going to spend time discussing what this Scripture really means. Seems somewhat problematic from a grace angle. But without getting into any theological debates, it is safe to conclude from these words that you and I will not come within 100 miles of the intimacy He wants nor within 100 miles of His fulness and purpose if we do not forgive.

And one last note. If you are always getting offended, you are too important in your own eyes. Only an insecure heart always gets offended. Why? Because in their eyes, everything is about them. At times, you just need to let things go. At other times, you need to go and apologize. You sinned. You did something wrong. And if you do not humble yourself, pride will annihilate one of the only things that really will last into eternity. What? What you do for people in the name of The Lord.

When I stop and think about it, especially as a Christian, I am overwhelmed by the idea that we sometimes do not think twice about choosing pride, a defensive posture, a desire to be right, over and above an individual that God was willing to be ripped, shredded, and hung for. As one author wrote, “Holding on to bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the person to die.” Paul wrote, “Forgive as The Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). My heart breaks at the thought that at times, as I am sure you have too if you are honest, I have chosen pride over a person, pride over them feeling special, pride over them hearing an apology, pride over their sanctification. If you do not forgive, you might as well not be a Christian. This is what it means to be a Christian. Apologize when you are wrong, forgive when someone else is. Pride is a cheap thrill in comparison to the value of deep, genuine relationships.