It's funny, because as I look at such degree programs, I realize that the only one that is basically off the table for me is the Ph.D. I don't want to teach at a university, and it'd take a really compelling argument and the perfect program for me to pursue that. Besides, I have decent grades but not straight A's or theologically trendy research interests, and without those things, I doubt anyone will take an interest in me in that respect. (This is not me hating on Ph.D.'s. My dad has one. I have friends pursuing doctoral work. I'm very glad there are people who feel called to teach in higher education. I'm often jealous of them. It's just not for me, not in that focused a way.)
A Th.D. or D.Min. would be far better suited for me. At this point, I feel strongly called to parish ministry—whether in a traditional pastoral role or doing something a little out of the box, I'm not sure, but any degree would have to serve that ministerial end. The Th.D. and D.Min. programs I've looked at provide some incredible avenues for bringing together theological exploration and contextual ministry.
And then there's the part of me that often thinks I'm simply not called to go beyond my master's degree. And that scares me. Why is that? Well, I want to write, I want to be engaged in theological conversation, and I fear not being taken seriously because I lack the "Dr." in front of my name. I fear not being considered special. I fear being just another pastor.
That's downright prideful. I'm cringing just reading those last two sentences. But I seriously struggle with this. I don't think about it consciously until I, you know, think about it consciously. But there is a part of me that wonders if people will be disappointed in me if I don't continue my education—or, worse, that no one will care or notice if I don't. I honestly sometimes have to remind myself that I am a person of worth no matter what degrees I have to my name.
It's easy enough to figure out where this comes from. I grew up in a high-achieving family and started doing well in school early on. I was placed in classes two years ahead of my grade level with all the other high-achieving kids starting in middle school. I went to Duke and finished a semester early. A lifetime of encouragement and praise has left me terrified I won't live up to it all.
I can blame a classmate of mine for sending my brain down this road. The other day, here's what she posted as her Facebook status:
I have to repent. I repent of wanting good grades. I repent of wanting human recognition and human love. I repent of wanting something that is "mine". I'm not going to finish a program in the Divinity School and refuse to die to self at the last. Someone else may have it -- all of it: prizes, accolades, proud parents, loving spouses, happy families. I renounce any claim, any stake in this world.
I think I need to print that out and read it aloud every morning. My anxiety about my academic future is based completely in fear and pride. I rebuke that. I rebuke my greedy desires for achievement and recognition. Even if I am called to pursue a doctorate, the only way I can do so with any vocational integrity is to get to the point where I no longer need it for myself.
Lord, lead me. If your plans for me include more school, I'll put in the work necessary. If May 2012 marks the end of my academic career (though never my learning journey), so be it. Remind me that I am your child, and no degree or accolade could ever merit or compare to the assurance of your embrace.