Several years ago I surprised myself by successfully completing a theology course at Oxford University. Almost daily while I was there I would ask myself, how did I get here? How did this little Mancunian lass who struggled with low self esteem, failed her 11+, left school with 5 CSE’s on poor grades, and had largely complied with the expectation of others who judged I wouldn’t come to much, ever aspire to be a student at Oxford University? As I walked around that great historical city, this renowned seat of British learning, where many of our world’s finest scholars have graduated, I would often pinch myself as I realised that I was now there too!
Sometimes I would wonder what actually would happen if they ever found me out. What would I do when they actually realised that I was not a keen and studious academic type like the rest of my fellow students. I worked hard to be seen to have a swan like exterior, gliding through serene and in control, whilst underneath I was seriously paddling like mad most of the times just to keep up, working long hours over essays and actually failing to keep on top of all the reading they kept giving to me.
One spring afternoon, on our way out of a lecture, whilst walking with my fellow students, discussion some weighty theological dilemma together, I suddenly tripped and fell down the stairs. My books went everywhere as I fell down approximately 12 ancient marble stairs. When I reached the bottom, not surprisingly quicker than my colleagues, I quickly collected up my books and fled. I didn’t cry out, I didn’t even think about physical pain at all. In that moment I felt like a fool, exposed, ashamed, humiliated, and everything within me shouted, run and hide.
Reaching the privacy of my own room I wept bitterly, I had wanted to be a success, to be seen as capable, competent, sophisticated, and in control. Yet who was I kidding? In that moment all I could hear were the voices from the past, the curses that I was stupid, a failure, not intelligent, a low achiever, a fool.
There was a knock on the door as one of my friends came to see if I was ok. Her enquiries were more about my physical health than my pride, was anything broken. She was asking questions I hadn’t even began to connect with. For me this had become an internal problem of the soul rather than the physical accident where I could have broken something, which fortunately I hadn’t.
Following this embarrassment what became clear was my fellow students didn’t think any less of me as a result of my dramatic tumble. What happened to me could have happened to anyone . Yet inside I needed to let go and learn a hard lesson that I was where I was, not because I was perfect, not because I was sorted and brilliant, but simply because I was deemed worthy just as I was, and I had many more hard lessons I needed to learn in this on going course they call ministerial formation – which yes – still continues today.
Thank you Father that you love me for who I am. That you know when I am struggling to be who I really am, you know all about my personal dilemmas and self doubts, and lift me up again to face another day.
Jesus – during this Lenten season – remind me again that it’s you who deems us worthy, not because of what we do, but because of what you have done for us. Thank you.
Lord hear us – Lord graciously hear us!