I did not manage to raise the funds I needed to start school this January. That means I need to defer my start date again to…well, I don’t know probably September.
I mean, if you know anything about me then you’ll know that I have been looking forward to starting PhD. It’s literally my dream – or something (we’ll get back to this). And I spent most of last year trying to make this dream a reality. I applied to schools, wrote IELTS, attended webinars, wrote a proposal, requested amazing motivations from people, wrote a TON of motivations, interviewed with a couple of schools, got rejected by some, found a great supervisory team, worked on updated versions of my proposal with their input, got accepted…then I JUST needed funding. So I was hopeful because I had done the hard work of getting into a PhD programme, but that was not enough. The money thing didn’t stop me either, I did poverty porn (go watch the video and donate here: https://gofund.me/35bcbe2b) even on LinkedIn. I approached all the institutions I could think of, wrote multiple essays to various influential people, applied to all the places that were still available, tried study loans with my family and nothing. I mean, this was always a possibility since I had gotten an acceptance letter pretty late (June), and so an October start date was out of the question. But January seemed doable, and do I did. Now here we are, with the disappointment of not being able to reach for that dream yet.
My feelings have been so interesting to navigate. I knew by early December that this was unlikely to pan out, so I have had about a month to mourn my dream and to start looking for a job now that it’s clear I need to continue adulting. I suppose the buzz of December, filled with family and laughter and loudness, helped drown any possibility of me being too much in my thoughts. But as life is calming down – the reality of people returning to their normal lives, the subsiding noise and the slowing down of life – I have chosen to hide in my mother’s village compound. My mom isn’t the biggest fan of village life. She hates the slowness of it all and cannot stand the lack of civilisation. The irony of this is that these are exactly the things I was seeking when I came here. I wanted to slow everything down, including my mind and to refocus on what I know for sure and the things I want to hold on to this year. I want to strip myself of all the privileges that drown out our ability to truly reflect on what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling. Then I want to take these realities and put them all before God.
So, what do I know for sure?
Right now I know for sure that I am deeply disappointed and my heart is quite broken. I know I had made plans but the Lord has said “many are the plans of man, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails”. I want to pause and take in the reality of God’s sovereignty and how painful it sometimes is.
I know I want to hide away and not face people’s “argh, what are you going to do now? Oh I am so sorry, what are you feeling? What are you thinking?”
I know I appreciate that I have a family that supports me as I endeavour on these unorthodox ways of “dealing”.
I know that I love being around my family. I haven’t gotten to be around my family for this long in literally forever. Between hostel and moving to varsity and then working, I have hardly spent a month at home. And now I am here, “eating what everyone eats” as my mother likes to say. Seeing my cousins and my nieces and nephews and aunts. Walking the road they walk and existing in their simplicity. I am no longer the visiting child from emazweni, I am now one of them, ordinary and familiar.
I know that God is good man, I know that in the fiber of my being. Everything about the current reminds me of God’s goodness – in giving me a family and friends that care, in orchestrating my life to lead me to this moment of reckoning. In stripping me of all I think of as familiar and cornering me – it’s just me and him here. No gimmicks or frills. I am stripped bare, with just a soul to give. It’s both liberating and uncomfortably scary.
I know so clearly that I love and want simplicity. Being off the socials (not doing too well with being off chrome, so let’s stick to the socials) has shown me how much time I have, and how I eschew boredom and being left with my own thoughts for too long. Yet the simplicity of it all – having no place to escape to, is liberating. In one of the most difficult moments, I have very little external feedback, save through the word. So, God gets to tell me how to feel, what to think and how to be. God gets to be my friend and counsellor. God gets to hold my hand, and broken heart and be my safe refuge. Oh Christian, how I would recommend this practice!
It’s literally my dream – or something…
Okay so I am an academic at heart, right? That’s never going to change. I love research and I want to contribute to it as much as possible. But I am learning to hold this loosely. I think I have recently been realising that truly, any good thing can become the ultimate thing. In thinking about pursuing PhD, I realised that I had wrapped all my aspirations of achievement in this, to make up for all my professional failures or even to make the wrong career moves and unfulfilled longings feel worth it. I wanted a professional do-over and PhD was going to be just that. The same way Master’s had become my academic do-over after a lacklustre undergrad. The same way getting it right in my current relationship was going to be my romantic do-over (go read my blog on my situationships here: https://storyofmybecoming.com/2021/01/05/reflections-of-a-serial-situationshipist/), you catch my drift. I –(we?) – have the tendency to take good things, amazing things really, and to turn them into ultimate things that are meant to fulfil unmet desires. Yup, solitude will have you diagnosing the problems of your heart!
This is not to say I shouldn’t dream – that’s literally impossible. It is to say that I need to learn to hold things loosely. To be honest about my desires and to shoot for the stars in my quest to pursue them, but to ultimately place my trust and hope in Christ. To know that if he closes a door, he has another path set. Or he has the same path and wants me to learn something. Either way, whether I choose to continue this pursuit or look to another, to not root my identity or my sense of achievement in any of these things. To be always checking that I look to none but Christ.
I know, I know, the question now is probably, how? How do you hold things loosely?
- Well, I have started by being honest with God about where my heart is at. When I see a want that seems to hold all my hope, I need to submit it to God in prayer
- I am getting into the faith-arousing word of God. Apparently, the remedy for a restless heart is the word of God. To take all the insecurities, all the desires for affirmation of identity, all the aspects of wanting to be seen and acclaimed, taking these to the word. Immersing myself in the psalms, and in the gospels to see who Christ says I am and how he calls me to be
- I am learning to be honest with others about what I see in my heart so they can pray with me. When I see pride or conceit lurking, I am learning to ask others to pray with me. I think the more you’re able to confess even the ugliest things that you see in your heart, the more God honours your humility
- I realise that part of holding things so tightly is rooted in unbelief about some attribute of God. For example, wanting to be seen or acclaimed in a particular area means you either don’t believe that the God who sees rewards (meaning he isn’t good) or you don’t believe he sees (meaning he isn’t all knowing). Either way, there is some aspect of God’s character that you haven’t fully believed. I know that’s usually the case with me. So the cure for an unbelieving heart is prayer. Praying that the Lord will reveal himself to me and to settle my restless heart. That I may not be desperate for gain because I know God sees and he rewards. UnguThixo obonayo
- Final thing – guarding the heart so jealously. Yho guys, 2022 is the year that I want to seriously work on this! Part of the issue with me has been a lax demeanour to things. I have been too relaxed about what I watch and read, who I hang out with, what I spend my time doing etc. I think I am learning (again) that whether you like it or not, things aren’t neutral. They’re always changing and shaping you. So when I decided to get off WhatsApp (story for another day), I realised how much I had been influenced by external voices. My friends would be reading something or taking up some activity and I would find myself gravitating towards that. While that isn’t bad in and of itself, it isn’t neutral. So if I am mindlessly drifting into things, I am not being a good steward of my heart and life. And God calls us to be good and faithful servants. In what we consume, how we live, what we meditate upon. And I think a big part of holding things loosely is in being deliberate in the ideas that shape you. In being intentional about how you think about certain things, and how you form opinions about their place in your life. Sometimes you think too highly of something because others think highly of it. If you quieten things down a bit, you might realise that those thoughts aren’t actually yours.
That’s all for now.
Grace and peace in 2022 friends!