“T.T., I want to talk to you about something.”
I stop in my tracks and turn around. This happened maybe 4 years ago now, but I still remember this part clearly. It’s the secretary at work, who I’ve always gotten along with very well–and yet she sounds concerned. Maybe even upset.
“I keep hearing you tell people that you’re just an aide. You’re not ‘just’ an aide! You’re not ‘just’ anything. . .”
I don’t remember how she finished her thought. Something about me being valuable or something. I don’t remember how I responded; I think maybe I kind of laughed it off, at least in my attitude. The conversation niggled in and stuck in my craw, but the point–I told the niggling thought–was that patients were asking me clinical questions, and I was appropriately clarifying that I wasn’t a clinician: I was “just an aide.” Why was the conversation getting stuck in my head, then? Because–I knew she was right. I knew I said Just all the time about myself. I knew she was picking up on my attitude. I belittle my role, and she was right to call me out on it.
And now, 4 years later, God is reminding me I wasn’t listening hard enough, as Emily P. Freeman says almost the exact same thing, word for word. I was so startled to find Emily’s writing because it so neatly coincided with my own (I thought) private world of thoughts. One of the things I was thinking about this summer was art: about how my actions showed that I devalued it–threw it out the door in favor of “responsibilities” and “duty” and “things that had to be done.” Now, my mind was being prodded into remembering another facet of who God was: The Creator. The Artist.
In my mind, responsibility and duty superseded art. But was this God’s construct, or mine? Was God more concerned that I finished my homework than engage in creative endeavors? Was God more worried about the unswept floor than the rich form of expression we call “art”? I found that it was my construct. What I was worried about. What I was afraid of. I found that in creating, I better understood God. I would look at my art, my unique and peculiar expression, and feel so fondly about it–and in a moment that comes suddenly but lasts longer than the clock would claim, I understand God looking fondly on His creation. I found that God had a joy in creating, a joy which He was pleased to have us share in.
I dismissed art, because it was fun. It was pleasurable. Therefore, somehow, it must take second fiddle to the things which are odious, burdensome. Work before play, right? It seemed so virtuous. But God made fleeting lilies of the field, Just to be beautiful. Just to be Art. What I thought was important was not necessarily what God thought was important. What I thought I had to do was not necessarily what God wanted to do through me.
Emily writes about living art. Emily writes about turning everything you do into art. Emily writes about acknowledging art–and about not sticking a “Just” in front of it. Emily and I, I think, are talking about the same thing, even if we are finding different words for talking about it.
We are art, because we are the creation of The Artist. And that means we are not “Just” anything. You can try to cram that “Just” in there somehow, but if you ask me, “we’re Just made in the image of the Living and Holy God” sounds like a pretty lame use of the word “just.”
But somehow, we think we can. We think we can say that our declared list of things to do is more important than responding to reverberating Voice within us that says “Create!” We think we can use the word “Just” to refer to ourselves, somehow forgetting that what we are really doing is using the word “just” on the handiwork and design of God, the Alpha and Omega.
And I am sitting quietly under this rebuke, because I have been again speaking “just” over myself. But in the quietness that remains, there is now room for hope to grow. I am not, my situation is not, life is not Just. And I do not have to labor or work hard over being “Not-Just.” I am Not-Just because of the One who created me, and continues to pour through me His vision and His delight. I don’t need to make sure that I’m being properly and dutifully Not-Just in whatever role I’m in; I need to quietly sit back and recognize that I am Not-Just in those roles because He is the one who called me to those roles, to show a reflection of Himself through the expression of putting me where I am. I need to delight in what He is pouring through me, not think that I have right to dismiss my existence as Just.
One of the problems I had transition from work back to being in school was the Just. When I was working as a physical therapist assistant, I could see, I felt, so much more clearly, how God was using me. He was using me to pour out His healing, His comfort, His expression of love on His creations. But when I went back to school, I became “Just a student.” What was the point? What was I doing? What was I accomplishing? In effect, I was promoting the opinion that God had no use for students. In effect, I was saying that God could make anything beautiful out of academia. In effect, I was saying that since I had declared the whole system a farce, God must not care about any of it or any one in it, either. I was declaring it all a waste of time to be Just a student, and then despondently asking God why He had called me to such a worthless position.
But God did not call me to be Just a student–and indeed, I cannot be Just a student, even if I wanted to be, with God pouring out His own idea of how He would choose to express Himself through a student–and not even “a” student–through me. He could use any student; He chose me, knowing how He created me and how He would use me. And He was busy making me Not-Just a student, whether I was going to open my eyes to that fact or not.
This is a curious thing, because it means, among other things, that it’s not about you. Trust me, I have plenty of prayers about what I think, what I want, what I need. What I think I want or need. But God didn’t make only me, and, even curiouser, I am not the only person on the campus, either. So self-absorbed I can easily become, that it seems quite odd that God could have sent me where He did, when He did, not because of me. I could have the teacher I have, not because I need the teacher, but because the teacher needs me as a student.
One might think this idea could have crossed my mind before–or at the very least, that I would not be so caught off guard by it. No; it is a testament to my narrow-mindedness that I have been much more busy thinking “Dear God, please have mercy on me in the teachers that you send my way” instead of recognizing that there could be teachers He is having mercy on.
Those who know how very frustrated I can and do get with certain teachers are probably thinking that my teachers do need prayers for mercy shown them; well, I don’t blame you (that is another can of words, my friends, and a topic not to be addressed at already 10pm and 13,000 words. A little focus is needed, here). What I have been struck with in the last few weeks, though, is the utter discouragement of my physics professor. He seems to have such a desire to teach and to be making such an effort to teach–and it is seeming to be so lacking in effecaciousness and so utterly vain. His posture, his voice, his expression–all of it speaks of being so weary of fighting this battle.
I have seen it all change, in flashes, in bits and pieces, glimpses here and there that go by so quickly that it only increases the wonder of having seen it at all. Did you see what you thought you saw? That flash of light across the heavens? It was unmistakable, what you saw, but it’s gone already. I haven’t been often able to put into words what it is that I see, and yet it lodges within me like the words of my co-worker 4 years ago. I wasn’t sure what what it was, when he said of course he remembered me. I was totally caught off guard by the evident relief and–was it pride?–in his voice when he said that my exam was the last one he’d gotten in his hands, but the first one he’d graded–and that I’d done quite well.
I kept trying to find the words for it, and I would draw up blank, set the matter aside–and then come back to it again. It wasn’t until last Friday that I finally realized what I was seeing. I told him that I’d taken him up on his recommendation to be a tutor for one of his other classes with many struggling students, and now–there was more of a spring in his step, he was standing a little straighter, his eyes were a little brighter, there was more of smile on his face. He had the demeanor of a man who’s had a weight lifted off his shoulders, and the realization was so sudden I lost my train of thought and had to start my sentence over. This teacher is nearly at the end of his rope.
That seemed so much like the role of a student, not the teacher–but then, when had I considered what it was like to try to reach row after blank row of students? It never occurred to me that God could look down and say, “Oh, teacher, you need the encouragement of a student who actually wants to learn. I will send one.” Not Just a student; the one He sent. Or say, “Oh, teacher, you need someone to help you bridge the chasm between you and your students who say, ‘you can tell he wants to help you learn and that he’s trying to help you and trying to be accommodating, but he can’t explain things to you, because he’s just too smart!'” That’s what she said, when she came to me for help on Friday, and I laughed, only because I could see the picture so clearly in my minds eye. Her, floundering, overwhelmed; him, aware she was drowning but struggling to find any possible way to make it any simpler than he already had. Both of them, frustrated.
It’s a rather odd sensation when you realize that while you’ve been preoccupied about one thing, God has been merrily going about something else in a steady sort of a way without you ever realizing. It makes you just a tad more aware of how unaware you are. I certainly did not return to school with the intent of finding professors to help; indeed, the idea never crossed my mind. But I walked off of campus on Friday thinking, with some wonder, that I really am not Just a student. Not because of me, but because God has been busy scheming things I didn’t know needed to be schemed. I was looking for work, not art. He was saying they were one and the same, and He had every intention of making something beautiful here. The “just-ness” that I was clinging too was dissipating in the face of design of God, who created rocks and trees and me; who set course for the water, the path of flight for the birds, and me, here. It could not be “Just” when it was God who ordained it.
I can neither dismiss the work of The Artist, nor undo it. If I stop and consider, I may catch of a glimpse of the colors He is painting out through me, and in that is joy. And hope. And beauty.