Let me be frank: I’ve never struggled with academics.
Oh sure, every semester I’d spread all my schedules around me in a heap of misery and foreboding doom and cry for about 10 minutes. But then I’d just combine them all into one and be good to go.
I graduated co-valedictorian (with Schwes) in high school and summa cum laude from university. It’s not because I’m crazy smart, I just have a fairly large short-term memory bank and I’m a good test-taker. School’s no biggie. I tell you this not to brag, but so that you’ll understand my emotion in January when I said,
“Yeah, there’s no way this semester is going to happen.”
Last November my good friend MiniGinger asked if I’d be able to hang out more the winter and spring of 2017. She’ll probably remember that I gave her this kind of exasperated look and listed my woes of classes and work and a possible engagement — all of which happened, and more.
Up to a month before graduation I doubted the semester would ever end, or that I’d be walking across the stage to receive my diploma. I’d been taking two classes and struggling to get my counseling hours in. I was working 6-7 hours of overtime every week, traveling once a month, and trying to plan a wedding. Oh, and my niece was in and out of the hospital all semester. And then my worst fears came true.
I’d been floating along (okay, okay, yes I had a 98% in both classes, but I was exhausted and I don’t know how to let myself get worse grades) when I realized that my degree comprehensive exams were in one week. ONE. WEEK. Y’all, the professors recommend you study all semester. I scrounged in my storage closet for notes taken 2 and 3 years prior only to discover I was missing about a third of the notes. Oh well. I studied what I had. The night before the exam, I finally got hold of a full study guide! I skimmed it once before falling asleep, and decided that a night’s rest was better than cramming content anyway.
I took the test. Felt fine. I have a system of guessing how many questions I’ve missed, and the odds looked in my favor.
Now, I’ve failed things in my lifetime. For some reason, I chose to be a piano major when I hate practicing (um. whut?), and I failed my technique test twice. But the third time’s the charm, and I’ve never failed anything since. Until I got the results back from my comps.
FAIL. All caps.
Not right away; at first I was quiet. Started justifying myself, saying, “Well I only had a week to study,” or, “I just got the study guide last night. No big surprise.” A very small part of my heart latched onto the possibility that there was a mistake. I had no idea what would happen: whether I would have to wait until the next time the exams were offered (July, in the middle of my honeymoon), or if I’d graduate in May, or if I’d have to retake the entire exam or just part of it… it was all a blurry mess, but I was fine during my coffee date and after gaining some reassurance from friends who’d failed before (who knew??). I was fine until after I’d sent the professor a quick email scheduling my follow-up session. You know, the one where they tell you how badly you failed and walk you through retaking the exam because you obviously need help.
It wasn’t until I was home and in the arms of my fiancé that I broke. I sobbed. I had 3 papers due that week, and I had to work overtime. Even if I could just retake the exams in a week, I had no time to study and do my homework! That’s how I got in this mess in the first place! I had no more to give. I was done, I was empty, I was humbled.
And that’s right where God wanted me.
For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
The next afternoon I took a good hard look at my life, and I realized that I’d been trying to do the entire semester in my own strength.
For those of you unfamiliar with that little bit of Christianese, let me clarify. I believe in God and that He alone is powerful. It is only through His strength and grace that I am capable of existing, let alone earning a Master’s degree. I’ve dedicated myself to a life of serving God and depending on Him.
But this semester I told God, “Nah, I got this one. You go take care of all those sick people and poor people that I can’t do anything about. I’ll just be over here handling this degree all on my own.”
I forgot that I’m weak.
I forgot that He is my strength.
I was proud of my past accomplishments, and arrogant enough to think that I could just keep on doing whatever I wanted. I elevated myself to God’s place. Is it any surprise that I came crashing down?
I’ve repented to my Savior, but I still struggle with putting myself in His place. But now when I’m tempted to trust myself, this song comes to my mind:
When living life for Jesus Christ becomes too hard a task,
When obedience means sacrifice that seems too much to ask;
That’s when I learn that my own strength isn’t really strength at all,
And I find rest in humbleness when I surrender all.
When failures in my human strength have weakened all my pride,
And ruined hopes in fallen dreams have crumbled me inside;
It’s then by grace I fin’lly see the strength of Jesus Christ,
His victory is real in me when weakness fills my life.
In my weakness He is strong; In my need He leads me on.
When I come to the end of all I am, And I place my trust in Him;
That’s when His strength begins – In my weakness.
(“In My Weakness,” Galkin Evangelistic Ministries)
If you want to know the rest of the story, I passed. (There actually was a mistake in grading, I found out during my follow-up session). My GPA for the year was 4.0. I graduated. I have an MA in Biblical Counseling. And now I get to keep working overtime and plan my wedding.
I still struggle to remember it, but learning my own weakness was my most important lesson of the year. Because God’s strength never ever fails. It’s when I come to the end of all I am, and I place my trust in Him; That’s when His strength begins — In my weakness.
(Pictured: fiancé, Rae, BFF#2)