Listen to me whine (and repeat myself)

I have a bad habit of starting research papers with a general topic, but without a specific thesis statement.  Normally I manage to find a thesis somewhere within the reams of notes I’ve taken (on just about everything related to the general topic).  Right now I’m working on a research paper with a general topic of the 5th century Nestorian controversy and, specifically, whether Theotokos (“Mother of God”) or Christotokos (“Mother of Christ”) is the appropriate designation for Mary (it was ultimately a debate about how the divine and human natures in Christ relate to each other).  I’m having a heck of a time coming up with a specific thesis: debating the two terms is not within the scope of this assignment (15 pages), and whether or not Nestorius was actually a Nestorian (and thus a heretic) has been up for debate for 1,500 years, so I won’t be solving that one either.  The syllabus’ specifics are nicely general (one option is examining the importance of a certain event or controversy to the development of orthodoxy), but for some reason I can’t bring myself to write a paper on the importance of the Nestorian controversy to the development of the doctrine of Christ. It’s got to be something more…but what?

It doesn’t help that that whole affair is a confusing mess of poor terminology and misunderstanding.  I’d like to say that it’s a lesson in learning to listen to the other in debate, but I’m not sure if that’s a legitimate point to make for a research paper.

Someone told Dixie that I’d probably overdo things here at seminary and I’m beginning to think this person was right.  I wonder if I’m trying too much to be a scholar of some kind, maybe impress my professors or fulfill certain perceived expectations, rather than simply be a student, wherever I may land in that department.

This paper ain’t going away.  It’s due next Friday (October 30) and I will finish it come hell or high water, even if it’s crap.  I just want this course done already.

The problem is that I continue to have a hard time balancing my time. On Monday I have a midterm in which I have to put on my Bonhoeffer cap and respond to a case study as if I were Bonhoeffer, based on what we’ve covered so far in his Ethics.  But some days Ethics reminds me a bit too much of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (*petuey!*)–it’s full of brilliant ideas, but it’s dense and sometimes it takes a lot of focus and concentration and work to extract that brilliance from the text.  Somehow I have to take Bonhoeffer’s thoughts and turn them into a response to this case study…

And then there’s another paper due a week from Wednesday, but if I hand a draft in on Wednesday the prof will read it and comment on it for improvement before it’s due.  I may have to skip that opportunity this time around.

And I still have to keep up with my Hebrew vocabulary and grammar.

The difficulty is in knowing what to work on when.  I have two problems: 1) I have difficulty with multitasking; 2) I have a hard time working with small intervals of available time.  If I have 20 minutes free my tendency is to not use it for homework, because I think, “Aw, by the time I settle down and get focused, the time’ll be up”.  But I have to capitalize on these moments.  They are precisely when I need to do Hebrew, of course.

But what about that 1.5 hour block in the evening?  Research paper?  Exam prep? Reflection paper?  What?

It’s crippling.

I’m quickly learning (or perhaps reminded) that seminary life is one of constant hope and looking forward: if I make it to Friday, all will be well. Of course, after Friday a whole bunch of other things are due.

It’s interesting how I have never developed much confidence in my academic abilities.  I’m constantly expecting to be “found out”–as if I’m a fraud–and given a failing mark on an assignment.  THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED IN NEARLY 8 YEARS OF POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION.  Why do I still worry about this?  Honestly!  Even when I haven’t started a major paper until 10 o’clock the night before the due date–not even cracking a book until 12 hours before class–I’ve managed to come out with good marks.  So why do I worry?

Maybe that’s precisely it, maybe this way shoddy, mediocre way of doing things won’t work forever.  It’s bound to come back and bite me.  It just hasn’t yet.

Or maybe my subconscious is telling me, “Look, Marc: you’ve lived a whole life being successfully mediocre.  It’s time for you to step it up a notch.”

Or maybe my standards are too high.

Or maybe I need to think better of my abilities.

7 thoughts on “Listen to me whine (and repeat myself)

  1. Terry

    ditto on the entire last section of your post regarding confidence. This has been the story of my life! 🙂

  2. Simon

    Sorry Marc, but:

    I don’t have the time
    To listen to you whine
    About nothing and everything

    (Good luck, though!)

  3. Toni

    I think most of us live comfortably being successfully mediocre, and much of the feelings of uncoveredness happen when we’re pushed up against a yardstick demanding perfection to reach the top.

    Or something.

    But something that might help would be to schedule out your time into blocks that you adhere to. I can’t tell you how to divvy it up, but you could give yourself essay writing for 2 hours with a 10 min coffe break between, 30 min Hebrew, 1 hour of Bonhoeffer etc. Don’t forget space to eat meals, see Dixie etc. I think this will help you because it will give you a framework on which to construct you study periods, rather than desperately running from one urgent thing to the next.

    I know, I’ve done it, and it’s not a recipe for success or long life!

    Creating this kind of structure and doing the given task stops the brain panicking under pressure and ensures the less urgent ‘tiger’ jobs don’t sneak up on you. For those things that take longer than expected you’ll either have to burn midnight oil or hand then in less than perfect.

  4. Maureen

    I probably spent the first 2-3 years of my nursing career thinking that I’d also be discovered as a “fraud”! At some point, you learn how to balance it all – what skills/tasks you need to be really competent at, what things will just simply lessen in their feeling of urgency as you get more absorbed into the environment and its’ needs. One day at a time, one step at a time.

    Not everything matters in measurable terms (i.e. marks) – perhaps the more important thing to remember is that, after these 3 years, you want to minister to people with adequacy in the pulpit and compassion in the heart. Nestorius may not matter to anybody at that point. I know that the subjects are a means to an end, but maybe the assignments are more about character building in you as you strive to meet deadlines and maintain a personal balance. That’s what ministry is going to ask of you, too.

  5. Linea

    Ahhh – Maureen is very wise. And I think Toni’s suggestion about scheduling your time could be very helpful if you can do it and then not allow yourself to waffle about whether the scheduled subject is really the one you want to work on at its scheduled hour.

    Self discipline – the bane of a nine perhaps?

    And your tendency to underrate your abilities is not something that is a gift from God. He thinks you are great, just who he made doing something he is pleased with. So lean back on him when the doubts come.

  6. Marc

    Thanks everyone. Very encouraging, all (except you, Simon, until I realized you were quoting Green Day).

    Funny thing, Toni: I came home for lunch and said to Dixie, “How about instead of trying to do one thing all afternoon, I do two or three things in chunks?”

    Then I sat down and read your comment! 🙂

  7. Uncle Doug

    Mark: I believe you have most of the answers already. You have a great family, ambition galore, your future is no doubt bright, however, perhaps the questions are getting in the way of your progress. budget your time wisely and you will do great.” actually” , forget everything I said and read Maureens’ remarks again. You are sure to succeed. Maybe think “green” Rom: 8:28 Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day!!!!!

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