When God launches you onto unexpected paths…our own Kate Bartels shares her story:
I’ve been searching for a blazer as it’s been 20 years since I’ve owned one. This isn’t a fashion urge, but a reflexive “tangible action” I can take to allay my terror. Doing things that I can cross off a list gives me a sense of control.
I need a blazer because I am suddenly (in my quasi-overwhelmed opinion) and violently being thrust back into the working world after 20 years out of it. I left teaching high school English, belly bulging with our first baby, in 2001 – a lifetime ago. The past few years I’ve considered returning to teaching, but told myself if I did, I’d have (many) TERMS and CONDITIONS. I wanted to be FULLY PREPARED and perhaps even repeat a credential program to feel confident, even though my credential is still current (yes, I’m crazy like that). I wanted to start volunteering so I could ease my way into comfortable familiarity. I wanted to build up a wardrobe slowly and read about thirty pieces of literature that I should be ashamed I’ve never read, even though I was a literature major. In short, I wanted to be fully decorated, fully prepared, and utterly confident, and ready to slay when I filled out my first job application.
So much for my TERMS and CONDITIONS. As I was floating around, inventing ways to maybe reenter the workforce, God was crafting a different scenario. My husband was unexpectedly laid off and suddenly good preparation became a luxury I didn’t have. As the reality hit that I needed to go back to teaching without all the self-soothing that intense preparation provides, I battled (am battling!) disproportionate fear and insecurity. Day by day I had increasing dread and kept crying out to God, “I can’t do this! I’m not ready!”
But gently, God began to peel back emotions like bandage layers that Satan had used to disguise my sin and greatest weakness: my precious idol, my pride.
I began to see that my irrational fears (“I’m not cool anymore…the high schoolers will won’t like me like they did when I was 23!” or “I read Macbeth back in the day but I can’t remember a single thing!” or “I feel busy managing my house and family now…how will it be possible if I add working to the mix?”) were really just screeches to hide the painful truth that I was terrified of being unmasked, of being mediocre, of not being the best at something.
I began to face-plant before God, begging Him to take away the life-or-death stronghold my pride has on me, where I don’t want to serve high school students because I might not be THE BEST at serving high school students. But God is good! As I’m applying and taking a TB test and getting fingerprinted, I feel God’s voice telling me He will not lead me into some void where He hasn’t prepared the way in advance. And more importantly, I feel His gentle but firm admonition that it’s time. “It’s time.” It’s time for me to unwrap my fingers from the tightly held belief that I have to be a high achiever in order to be worth something.
The beauty of being thrust into a situation where you aren’t fully prepared is that there is no doubt that any fruit that comes out of it belongs to Christ. Had I entered the classroom with every degree and accolade I could eke out in advance, Jesus would not have gotten the glory in the same way as if I’d cried out, “I don’t feel confident, I feel very afraid! But I’ll trust You anyway!” Which is exactly what I’m crying out.
I wish I could say this story is just about me trusting God when going into the unknown. But it’s not. It’s about the panic I feel when I think I won’t do well at something I care about. And even that last sentence was sugar-coated. This essay is about my pride and the way I need God to rip it from me like a weed in my heart. I’m not there yet, but I suspect that in ten years, I’ll look back on this transition as one of God’s greatest and most enduring gifts to me: forcing me, through my husband’s layoff, to submit to God over self, and to embrace humility like a friend—the humility that comes as I walk into a job being fully aware that I might not be as prepared as I’d like to be, and therefore might be mediocre.
So, as I’m shopping for a blazer and tackling the five books I just bought on pedagogy, I’m pouring out my insecurity moment by moment to God and actually sensing soothing, yet challenging, questions from Him. He’s asking me:
Stock photo courtesy of istockphoto.com
Stock photo courtesy of istockphoto.com
“Can you humble yourself enough to step into work when you don’t feel you’ll be the best?”
“Can you submit so fully that even if you knew in advance you would utterly fail, you would still obey and go if you were sure I’d called you to?”
“Can you sacrifice your concerns and replace them with faith that I will provide what you need both in the classroom and in your home?”
“Can you feel how pleased I am that you are even applying for jobs because I know how hard it is for you?”
I’m pouring my whole self into tuning out my inadequacies and paying attention to what God is asking me. It feels like a hard sacrifice – sacrificing my pride and sense of preparation and excellence. But I know it’s a hard and deadly way to live, the pride life, and God wants better for me than that. I am desperate for God and I want Him more than I want to be in control of myself and my destiny. So as soon as I finish this essay and submit it, I will pray again with my whole heart for courage and fill out the new-hire packet that’s sitting in my email inbox.
God is so good to not let me stay in my fearful pride!!