I really don’t like writing personal statements.
In fact, if I had to place it on my list of my least favorite things, writing personal statements would rank somewhere between that feeling I get after eating gluten (which I not-so-affectionately refer to as “gluten gut”) and playing house. It’s not necessarily that I’m bad at writing personal statements. After all, I was accepted into a history PhD program… despite my statement listing the wrong year for German unification. (It’s 1871, NOT 1873. Whoops. Minor details.) I just don’t enjoy the process of writing them.
Fortunately, though, I only have to write personal statements once in a while. But unfortunately, that “once in while” happened this week. Though the assignment was disguised as a “Statement of Teaching Philosophy,” it essentially a personal statement. Begrudgingly, I sat down to write it. And in the process, I remembered why I don’t enjoy this genre.
You see, personal statements are, by definition, personal. When I study about historical topics, I maintain a “critical distance” and write about them in an impersonal way. But in a personal statement, the tables are turned. Suddenly I become the subject of analysis, and I’m expected to write about myself in a thoughtful and perceptive way. In theory, this should be simple. But in reality, it’s next to impossible. Why?
Because to write about oneself, one must first know oneself. And that’s where things get tricky for me—and personal statements become daunting. If I’m honest, I don’t think I know myself very well at all. Yes, I’ve taken countless personality tests and inventories, and I could classify myself as a yellow-and-blue, ESFJ-like, beaver-retriever. But what does that actually mean? And to make matters worse, the harder I try to find my “true” self, the more elusive it becomes. It’s as if the answer is on the edge of my peripheral vision, taunting me, and as soon as I turn to look, it disappears. Yes, I know a lot of facts about myself, and I could make a long list of the people, places, and experiences that have shaped me. But I can’t help but think—wish, wonder, hope—that I am greater than the sum of my parts, that I am more than a composite of my past. But how do I figure it out?
Fortunately, this is not my first mini-existential crisis (nor will it likely be my last). One of the more recent crises happened during my first semester at the Kanakuk Institute. While this meltdown wasn’t personal-statement-induced, the concerns I expressed were the same. Desperate for encouragement, I called my dear friend Sarah. Sure enough, God used her to speak truth to my stressed-out heart:
“Stef, quit worrying about knowing yourself. Instead, ask the Lord to reveal to you who He is. Only by knowing Him will you discover yourself—and become who He made you to be.”
Like cool water on a summer day, her words calmed the panic in my soul. She was right; God knows me far better than I know myself. He understands everything about me—from my deepest desires and dreams to my goofy quirks (like my inexplicable affinity for songs in ¾ time). He’s never confused, even when I confuse myself. I can rest in the truth that I am deeply, truly, intimately, and fully known. And in case I wasn’t sure about it, He dedicated an entire Psalm* to this, just to be clear.
Yes, I may still feel confused now and personal statements may remain the bane of my writing existence, but I can rest in the knowledge that the God who made the heavens and the earth knows me. And He promises that someday I will know Him even as I am fully known.
So in the meantime, I’ll keep seeking Him, and He’ll keep revealing more and more about who He made me to be.
… And if I’m lucky, maybe give me some insight before my next personal statement. 😉
*A portion of Psalm 139
O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
2 You know [a]when I sit down and [b]when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
3 You [c]scrutinize my [d]path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
4 [e]Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
5 You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
7 Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in [f]Sheol, behold, You are there.
9 If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will [g]overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
12 Even the darkness is not dark [h]to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.
13 For You formed my [i]inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give thanks to You, for [j]I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
15 My [k]frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.