This semester has been a whirlwind.
The next step after passing my exams in December was teaching my own class. “The Making of Modern Europe”, as the class is cleverly named, covers almost 500 years of—you guessed it—European history. We’re currently in week 6, and we’ve made it from the Reformation through the 1880s. Yikes. On a practical level, this means that every Tuesday and Thursday, 24 undergraduates show up in room 118 because they want to learn from what I have to say… and they don’t want to lose points due to my strict attendance policy. To get ready for these 75-minute class sessions, I spend significant time writing lectures, making PowerPoints, and searching for nerdy history memes like these:
And, of course, the occasional YouTube video:
As you can see, it’s been a lot of work (there aren’t as many appropriate history memes out there as you would think!), but also a lot of fun. After all, I’ve always loved a captive audience, haha.
In addition to teaching, I’ve also been hard at work writing my dissertation prospectus. “Prospectus” is a fancy academic-sounding word for “proposal.” Although these can range drastically in length (I’ve seen some that are 55 pages long), in theory this should be 20-page document explaining the background, logistics, and purpose of the project that will consume the next 3-5 years of my life. No pressure, right? At the end of March, I will “defend” my prospectus before my committee (ie, faculty who work on similar things) and a public audience comprised of whoever wants to come. Since I’m scheduled to defend next month, I need to have my project well defined and well-articulated very, very soon. Last week, I had a major epiphany about what I’m doing, which was fantastic, but it also meant that I needed to completely rewrite my earlier proposals. And since my advisor and I agreed on an “internal deadline” of this Tuesday for her to review my proposal before I sent it to my committee, I suddenly had a lot of work to do.
So, if this semester has been a whirlwind, then this past week was an F5 tornado. Not only did I need to plan my usual two lectures (and locate the accompanying memes), but I needed to rethink, research for, and rewrite my prospectus. Add to that the fact that I had promised my students I would their first papers and provide a study guide for the midterm by Thursday, and I suddenly had a lot on my plate.
Now, I’ve been through stressful and high-pressure weeks before. One doesn’t finish college and get through 2.5 years of graduate school without a fair share of late nights (or all-nighters), near-overdoses on coffee, and coming down to the deadline-wire. In that sense then, this week was nothing new. Infrequent, yes. Unpleasant, definitely. But not unfamiliar.
In reality, this week was very different. But not because of the stress level, but because I was in a terrible mood for much of it. As in, abysmally bad. Like, getting annoyed with pedestrians for crossing the street. Or wanting to curse out a driver (*cough* multiple drivers) for not using a turn signal. Or with virtually anyone who got in my way or made my life even slightly more difficult. Even when I was serving at church, I found myself wanting to reprimand a toddler for simply being too toddler-y. Yep. I was a mess. And all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball, pull the covers over my head, and let the bad mood pass. But, thanks to the aforementioned tasks looming on my to-do list, “sleeping it off” was the last thing I had time to do.
To make matters worse, I couldn’t figure out what the heck was wrong. I don’t normally hate pedestrians (in fact, as a runner, I usually am the pedestrian), I don’t usually use mental expletives while driving, and I never before in my life have gotten so frustrated with a toddler. What in the world was wrong?
Then on Monday evening as I was stewing, I found a common denominator in my recent moments of irritation: I felt pressed for time. The pedestrian crossing the street made me slow down, the guy without the blinker ended up getting in my way, and I would have rather been working on my prospectus than watching the toddler. I felt like I wouldn’t get everything done, and so I reacted with anger and frustration.
A year or so ago, I read a book called Time Peace, in which Ellen Vaughn makes a similar observation. She argues that our responses to life are intricately linked to our view of time. If we think we have too little time, we will be stressed out and explosive. But if we believe we have enough time, we are more apt to be patient, loving, and kind to those we meet and to ourselves.
Vaughn then insists that our perception of time directly relates to our view of God: if we believe that He is eternal (ie, that He exists outside of time) and that He has unlimited resources at His disposal, then we can trust Him to provide us ample time for us. Ultimately, then, it’s not “our” time anyway; God gives us time to steward and use for His Kingdom purposes.
Not every time I get moody can be explained by my view of time. Stress is a real thing, deadlines are scary, and sometimes life truly does seem to ask more of us than we can handle. But even in those times—especially in those times—our Heavenly Father desires for us to turn to Him, so He can provide us with the energy, grace, and time we desperately need. For in the midst of the chaos, the deadlines, and the stress, He is our Source of peace and rest. The Psalmist captures this well:
“But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand.”
Well, that’s enough for today. I need to start looking for memes for Tuesday’s lecture… 😉