Working with yourself

Working with yourself

When we first married, we had a very old Ford Anglia car. It would get us from A to B (eventually) but you had to understand it and work with it not against it, understanding its strengths and weaknesses. We loved her but she was particularly hard to start in the mornings, needed constant topping up with oil and had a tendency for the windscreen wipers to fail in the middle of a storm.

There are plenty of books about how to work sensibly with others but one of our central tasks as theological educators is to work sensibly with ourselves. Just as our car did the job so long as you treated it carefully, aware of what it could and could not do, so with us. Plenty of us are hard to start in the mornings, need constant topping up with coffee and can’t see very clearly in a storm of stress. We need to know ourselves, work with, not against, us as we are and then the job will get done as best we can. What does this mean?

  1. Understanding our weaknesses and strengths, a fair assessment of our ability or otherwise, with academics, people, planning, management, public speaking.
  2. Recognising our need for a team around us, because we know we will not have all the skills necessary to do the job alone. Building a team with those not like ourselves.
  3. Knowing our stress signals, which could be growing anger, pains in the head or elsewhere, you name it, you have them, they are the body saying slow down or trouble is coming.
  4. The ability to apologise and gain forgiveness – from others and ourselves since we will mess up. A loving relationship with others should ensure forgiveness from them and we need to show as much grace to ourselves as God does to us.
  5. Knowing our time cycles of ability and using them. Early morning or late at night are classic times when we work best or worst, but it is often more complicated than that, we just have to know, and adjust our schedules to work with the cycles.
  6. Understanding when and how best to build in “time out” in relaxation is essential, on our own and with those we love, remembering that we have other relationships than our relationship with theological education!
  7. Realising all these things shift upwards as we mature and downwards as we age. We do not paint the picture of our self-knowledge just once, but need to regularly re-paint it in certain areas as we change.

You have probably noticed that God has hardly been mentioned in this post yet. However, all this is spiritual work. Only true humility will put us in a position to be able to assess ourselves correctly. We need divine wisdom (and wise fellow Christians) to guide our minds as we try for an honest assessment of ourselves. And a true assessment of ourselves will surely lead us to the view that we cannot do the job unless we have the help of God. The end result of working with ourselves then, is a life of prayer.

And what an encouragement when the job is done through us and despite us because God chooses the weak to confound the strong. Now and then, in our little old rattily car, we would pass some nice flashy BMW or Jaguar beside the road broken down and going nowhere. And we would laugh.

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