Friday, 10 December 2010

Preparation and Penance?: Striving for Humility in Advent

A little while back, I posted on how I'm quite happy that I'm following my calling of motherhood and homemaking, fulfilled by not achieving my academic potential. I'm afraid that was only a representation of the truth. I'm a proud, proud fraud.

Although I DO love cleaning, baking, preparing meals, wiping little bottoms and so on (not that I do enough of all this!!), and feel very fulfilled while immersed in it, if this were all there had been in my life, I'm not sure whether it would be enough.

Although I laugh when my children get confused when Daddy says Mummy is quite clever, my University of Oxford education often sustains me. Yes! I was clever enough to go there, my ego tells itself. And I managed to read a lot of books! And pass a lot of exams!

Although I happy to be referred to as Mrs, I am permitted to go by the title Dr due to my acquisition of a PhD eight years ago, and if people don't realise that, or call me Miss, or comment on my being Dr Standen but then continue to call me Mrs, only my husband can tell you how angry I get! Sometimes I use my credit card that says Dr on it because I want to show off my status, in a very different way that I like to tell people I am the mother of three wonderful girls.

Obviously there are issues here. When I was younger, my academic abilities were championed at the expense of other things I could do, but not as well; I never felt that I had to work that hard at being clever, which felt fraudulent in itself. Few of my contemporaries at school saw academic achievement as a good thing. For years I kept my academic successes hidden away because I was ashamed, and because I felt they detracted from how people related to me when they found out I could use my brain well. The fact that I have qualifications but have not gone on to publish confounds some people; conversely, my fellow PhD students can't believe I gave up my career to focus on motherhood.

But really, people generally don't care (and if they do, they have their own issues with status.) And after all God gave me this brain to use well, and I have, and I may keep on doing so. But I really need to practice letting go of the awards this brain of mine has achieved. Yes, slogging for a PhD was really hard work, and it's nice to have the thesis on my shelf (for one thing, it presses dried flowers beautifully.) But it doesn't define me as a person, and if I'd never undertaken it, I wouldn't want to feel regret or bemoan that I was 'only' a mother.

I know I have had opportunities others never get. I don't consider them a waste, but I don't consider them something here and now in my life - they are like the plaque on a wall commemorating my former self. I've evolved into something new, who now studies theology with a passion but loves, despite her feminism, to place herself firmly in the kitchen. Of course I feel God's hand on this whole journey. I feel the gifts he has given me all come together with a synergy that may take me somewhere else he wants me, if he needs me to.

I found out this week that someone whose gifts, talents and self I really respect turned down the opportunity of a similar education to mine, and it just blew me away. The fact that we don't have to do the status thing. We don't have to hide behind labels. We need to do what we discern is right for us. We have to be honest and humble, like the Father sees us. He has His plans for us, and although the human world may place certain attributes higher than others, He just wants us to serve, as we grow into the people he designed us to be. I've been dissing Saint Paul over at Conversion Diary this week, but he was quite right telling us that the way the world perceives wisdom may be foolish God. And of course Jesus too asks us not to seek the praise of humans.

This Advent I've felt myself being stripped bare little by little; feeling overawed by the heritage stemming from Genesis that we view through the Jesse tree. Realising that even if I mind that my minister sees me mainly as a mother, a helper and a volunteer, then my ego needs to re-adjust. Realising that being a mother, or an academic, or managing to turn in my next assignment for my theology course, is not the important thing. Listening, and responding; awaiting the coming of Jesus; letting loose pride and taking on humility, are.

It's not a fundamentalist interpretation, but I surely don't believe there was just Mary and Joseph in that stable. SOMEONE would have helped them out, brought them water, gave help through labour. But that someone has been lost forever in history. Their role in ensuring the Messiah came to us safely doesn't matter to anyone but God. And that's okay.

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