“Don’t be afraid to let yourself be human, Jen.”
These wise words from one of my HDS advisors have come back to me again and again throughout my second year here at HDS. Throughout my time here, I have experienced firsthand that while HDS is full of some of the most talented and highly productive people you may meet, it is also grounded in an incredibly supportive community. Over our three years of Divinity School in the MDiv program, we are asked, constantly, to do it all: complete multiple intensive, transformative internships; read more pages than ever possible each week; develop strong and lasting relationships with friends and colleagues; network and realize our future plans; go to all of the lectures and all of the events taking place across this great university. The opportunities for education and exploration truly are endless here, not to mention the amazing people you’ll meet along the way.
The most formative lesson I have learned here has not been that I can’t “do it all,” nor that “doing it all” isn’t even possible. Instead, I’ve learned that “doing it all” isn’t even the point—and that as incredibly busy as these peers of mine are, they are also the very people who are going to help me through this place. Divinity school has a way of throwing you back on yourself, asking you to confront what matters most and understand it, process it, and allow the revelations to change you. This process—of finding clarity in our vocations, letting ourselves be changed by what we’re learning, and building formative relationships with those we serve—is incredibly challenging, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. Every week has the potential to be fraught with the growing pains of transformation; each semester presents a new invitation to deepen our understanding of our work and our place in it.
Like lots of others who matriculate at HDS, I chose to come here because I’m someone who runs towards the challenge, not away from it; who enjoys taking it all on and opening myself to the change. Yet I also chose HDS because I could feel, from the moment I stepped on campus, as a visiting student, that this was a place committed to doing the good, hard work, sustainably. At HDS, I’ve come to experience vocational ministry as a call to live fully into ourselves, rather than sacrificing ourselves entirely for the benefit of others. In the mosaic of ministers that make up our community, I have found friends and colleagues who are not just ready to give their all to their life’s work, but who are intent on creating a way that they can do it for a lifetime.
While we’re often prone to talking abstractly about “wellness,” “mental health,” and “self-care,” I’ve found that the art of caring for myself as I care for others must arise out of knowing my passions and knowing myself. Practically, this has meant spending time with friends from all parts of my life, creating a consistent spiritual-physical practice, and intentionally exploring Boston and New England. It’s meant letting go of perfect response papers and focusing on doing only the reading I need, can, and want to do. It’s meant reigniting my creative self, through dance, art, singing, and writing. Most radically, it’s meant conserving an entire day each week during which I don’t even think about work, and explore other things that I love.
For me, the choice to commit my life to public service has required a deep shift in perspective. It’s taken more than convincing myself that “no one can do it all” to transform the addicting rush of classes, meetings, coffee dates, potlucks, and worship services into a sustainable, lifelong practice. Clearly, this is always a work in progress. But, right now, committing to this work has meant choosing to define myself, rather than letting the work define me. It’s meant knowing myself, my friends, and my colleagues in all of our vulnerabilities and strengths, each on our own paths through this place. It’s meant reminding myself that I am human, serving humans. And it’s meant learning that, if “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” I have to have a whole self to bring.