I’m a graduate student in seminary. And it’s hard.
Can I get an Amen?
To my fellow se(wo)menarians, (See what I did there?) here are my words for you (and maybe for myself, because I need to hear it too):
First, you are doing great. Remember last week when you went to that student’s piano recital, theatre performance, sporting event, award ceremony, etc? Remember being a cheerleader all the time for them? Take a second and be a cheerleader for yourself. You deserve it. Celebrate yourself.
Take some breaths, and let’s survive.
These are some of my key factors of my “Seminary Survival Guide”:
1. Do it for our daughters.
Let our students know that they can do this if they desire it. They can pursue their ministry, they can pursue their dreams whatever realm it is in. We are an example not only of following our calling, but also as women in a field that is challenging for women. We are also able to encourage women who want to become doctors and teachers and scientists. May we be women who beat the odds for the sake of education. I am blessed to have sisters who have come before me, and who are doing hard work in the academic world.
I am sitting at an academic conference as I write this, with women who continually cite the importance of their work “for their daughters.” For the students that come after them, the pastors and mothers and the single ladies who have to fight just a little harder. They dedicate their work so that their daughters eventually may not have to fight so hard. We do this work for our daughters, biological and metaphorical. We do this so no little girl is told she can’t preach, just because she is a woman. As women in youth ministry and seminary, we seek an education that allows us to grow young women and men who can think critically about God. We do this for equality, for liberation, and for healing for our dear students. Ladies, this work matters.
2. Do it for our theological development – individual and communal.
This may seem like common sense, but it really isn’t always. I was told in 7th grade by a pastor that if I ever wanted to be a woman and pursue ministry, I would at least have to pursue grad school, just to compete with a male candidate, regardless of their education. This is not untrue. I was horrified as a 13 year old coming to terms with this, but I sought from that day on to enter a seminary program so I could “get the paper” to get the job. At 18 I moved from my desert home in Las Vegas, Nevada, to Lakeland, Florida forSo I moved across that country at 18 years old for a church internship a school where I could major in practical ministry. I made sure everyone knew I moved for the job (which did eventually become a paid position), NOT for school. I knew what I believed, I just needed it on my resume so I could be considered for the pastorate.
However, the church became toxic and I was at a loss of what ministry now meant to me. It is in the classroom that I found healing. It was in my professor’s office where I was able to cry and yell and grieve about the terrible theology of our churches and the critical implications this theology had on our communities. This is what caused me to apply for graduate school. There is healing in the process of deconstruction and reconstruction’ the value gained from the challenge of the classroom is a thousand times more valuable than the degree it gets you. Don’t forget in the piles of papers torite and the twenty books to read (this week alone), that you are doing this with purpose, and one of those purposes is the development of critical theological reflection and interpretation. Our churches are destroyed by damaging theology. We, dear women, can change the way we talk about God in our ministries, with critical implications for our community. We must do this work for the edification and development of our communities at large.
3. Do It with care.
In the midst of balancing ministry, family, and seminary, women tend to lose their concern for their own self. The way my program works, I spend ten hours a week in a classroom, with an expected total of 40 hours of research, reading, and writing outside the classroom. I also work as a teaching assistant, and a starbucks barista (spoiler alert – working at Starbucks is a great supporter of your caffeine addiction which is actually how to survive seminary). I participate in youth ministry, and I’m a newlywed. Somehow I am supposed to spend 50 hours for seminary, 40 hours for work, and also try to be a good wife. And I am TIRED. In the last year of seminary I have had a “Come-to-Jesus” moment pretty much weekly, where I am reminded that Sabbath is critical. Tish Harrison Warren, in her amazing book Ordinary Liturgy, gives a critical analysis of the connection between our own daily sleep cycle and our practice of Spiritual Sabbath. If we cannot get 8 hours of sleep, will we ever be able to adequately worship God in the practice of Sabbath? Spoiler alert – probably not. Remember that your health is important, your rest is imperative, and a thriving community is what will get you through this. Care for yourself, however that looks for you.
Remember that cheerleader moment from earlier? I know you probably didn’t actuallytake a second to be proud of yourself. So here’s another chance. You’re doing great. You are important. The work you do matters and it is beneficial for you and your community.
Thank you for doing the hard work. Let us do this….For our daughters.