Recently in conversation with PhD colleagues, we were discussing the ebb and flow of confidence in our work, the mixed feelings we experience as we submit writing to our supervisors, then enter their office to discuss that work.
Sometimes we know it is work in progress, and are prepared, even hoping for, critique of the gaps and weak spots to help us strengthen that piece of writing, more successfully express that argument, fill out that discussion with another point of view. Sometimes we think we might have written something quite good, and our hopes are that our assessment will not be contradicted by our supervisor when we meet.
A lot of the time, we are simply not sure at all. Is our work at an acceptable standard, are we asking helpful questions, making appropriate interpretations – do I even belong here?
I had an interesting thought during this conversation, one that has occurred to me before: I do have confidence in myself as a writer, a scholar. I know I belong.
And it occurred to me, as I pondered that thought, what a gift that is. Because I have doubts, I am uncertain about my writing, the questions I am asking, the validity of my project. But in the midst of all that, I know I belong here, in the PhD program (though the funding knock backs shake that belief to almost toppling over), in Scotland. Although at times it is frustrating in the living out of the knowledge, the partnering with my community, the sometimes not being received as I belong, I do know where I belong in my community, the Christian community and beyond, as storyteller, poet, minister.
As I dwell in gratitude for this knowing and belonging, I remember the hard work to get here. The hard work of exploring options, trying many doors before finding the one that opened, the self exploration, wrestling with demons and organising the stories I was telling of myself so that the life-giving ones had prominent position. The hard work of others to sit beside the darkness bearing light, to listen, encourage, explore and discern with me; to venture into unknown waters, to send me further with trepidation; the sacrifices of time, energy and money; the wisdom and generosity of spirit.
Now what will I do with this gratitude, this belonging, this wisdom I have received? Perhaps this firm foundation is a place from which I can offer gifts of light, encouragement, time and space and story. Friends, let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual encouragement, receiving with open hearts and humble gratitude, giving with open hearts and humble generosity.