I'm drawing closer to the end of my doctoral work, and that means a lot of my work at the moment is revising drafts. In the last couple of weeks I have been redrafting the introduction to my thesis. This is slow, bitty work: fixing various details, doing small pieces of further reading and research, tightening up or clarifying expression on sentence level.
Slightly broader, but perhaps even slower, are the tasks of thinking about structure and overall argument. I always find it difficult to do the work of pulling apart a piece of writing and rearranging it, breaking apart the lines of connection I built in the first time round and trying to make them better. And - particularly crucial in an introduction - I'm trying my best to pin myself down to concrete claims, and to substantiate those claims: to say what I really mean. This can feel somewhat vulnerable - no more hedging!
Revision is a frustrating process in many ways. It tests my patience, and my resistance to procrastination. When drafting a piece for the first time, I can get into the flow of the ideas and run with them, getting the words down and not worrying too much about their final state. But I'm now at the point where I need to be polishing, and fact-checking, and making sure the reader can follow every step of the argument. I find it a challenge to fix my mind to these kinds of tasks in the same way.
How can we serve God when we're revising or redrafting work? That is - how does a Christian view of work and scholarship inform the kind of task which can be frustrating and slow, but nonetheless requires concentration and an overall vision?
Reflecting God's work in ours
Every part of a Christian academic's work is to be done for God's glory, and every part of our research has its place in God's complex universe. So he understands it, infinitely better than we do; and he deserves the glory for any truth or beauty that emerges from our work. This means that the little details are as important as the big ideas - they're all connected and all equally known by God. Our goal should be for our academic work to resonate on some level with God's creative work, to reflect and explore some part of how he has made reality.
This is something to keep in mind as I work on seemingly tiny pieces of my writing, or struggle to be completely clear with my terms. Accuracy, clarity, and careful attention in my work are part of my service to the God in whom everything I know, and everything I don't know, ultimately coheres. Having these goals, and working towards them conscientiously, helps my scholarship to better reflect his character and creative work.
Growing in patience
On a more practical level, God can use this sort of task to grow my (very lacking) virtues of patience and dedication. There are examples here in the life of Jesus: he spent the majority of his life in ordinary manual work, serving God patiently until the time was right for the full expression of his ministry. He took the time that was needed to teach, even when the disciples and other listeners repeatedly failed to grasp what he taught. And he persevered to the end of the whole plan of salvation, wholly committed to the last to the work his Father had given him to do. In small ways, in these very specific small things, I have the opportunity to begin reflecting such glorious patience and perseverance.
I've also been pushed more to prayer, especially when it comes to the challenge of stating what I mean and nailing my colours to the mast in terms of methodology and conclusions. The vulnerability that comes with trying to integrate personal faith commitments with academic work can help me recognise my dependence on God, and go to him more often to simply ask for what I need. (I'll perhaps write in more detail about this in another post.)
What parts of your academic work do you find frustrating and difficult? Where might you need to practise patience, or recommit to serving God through dedicated effort? What small details of your teaching or research display the glory of God's interconnected, beautiful world?