Under Pressure: Life Lessons from an Academic Test

Photo by  Steven Schwartz

Just last week, I took an incredibly important test. I’m currently pursuing my Ph.D in theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and, up until this point, I haven’t had to worry about a lot of tests. In fact, much of my work has revolved around reading and writing. So, while the program has been grueling to say the least, my test last week was the first major exam I’ve taken. It was three days long and lasted three hours each day. I answered nine questions in twenty single-spaced typed pages. By Friday, I was mentally and emotionally drained. While this test was by no means the most difficult that I had ever taken, it was by far the most stressful because of the consequences of my results; passing the test meant continuing in the program, maintaining my timeline of completion, and earning my Th.M, an advanced Masters degree that could allow me to teach on the adjunct level. Needless to say, I felt the weight.

Lean on Him

After having the weekend to reflect on the test, the Lord reminded me of two lessons he has taught me countless times. This past Sunday, Pastor Rob Wilton, preached a sermon from Acts 20 where he highlighted the important fact that we can’t do anything on our own, but can do all things with God. Unfortunately, when we are involved in activities and pursuits for which we are naturally gifted, we often fail to remember that we can’t do them on our own. This was my first lesson. While the Ph.D program is not for the faint of heart, anyone that knows me will say I’m most at home in the academic world. It is where I thrive. Considering that I’ve been a student for over twenty years now, you could say that I have the academic life down pat. While I spent a considerable amount of time studying for this test, I also recognized that I’m used to taking tests. However, by Wednesday of last week, the weight of the exam finally got to me. Each day as I took the test, I realized something: I cannot do this alone. While God has certainly gifted me to be a student, he still desires for me to lean on him and his strength to accomplish the things in academia he has called me to. Last week I failed to remember that I can’t do it without God.

Trust Him

Something else also happened last week. As the week passed, I found myself increasingly stressed out. Before each day of the exam, I found myself obsessing over the test, to the point of giving myself headaches and near panic attacks. Now, I am not saying that I shouldn’t have been thinking about and studying for this test, but the stress I was experiencing was ridiculous. Even now, there is a bit of stress as I wait to learn whether or not I passed. After completing Day 2 of the test, I was very frustrated with myself because I had made an error on a question after second guessing my initial correct response. Because of this, my stress level intensified and I began preparing myself to receive the news that I had failed the test. Again, as I reflected back on this test over the weekend, I realized I had forgotten a very important lesson God had taught me several years ago. For the longest time, I stressed and worried about my family’s financial situation until I realized one day that, in the midst of financial struggle, God had always provided for our needs. Soon after that realization, I heard a sermon about worry by Rob Turner, a pastor of Apex Community Church in Kettering, Ohio. He preached, “worry is the idol of unbelief” and I I recognized immediately that my worry was declaring to God, “I do not believe you.” Because I did not trust God, I worried. Until last week, I had never worried that much about a test, but as it consumed my life, I began to feel worry and increased anxiety over the entire situation. Sadly, it took a test to remind me to trust God and not worry. Did I make mistakes on the test last week? Yes. Could I have been more mentally prepared? Yes. Did I give it my best? Yes. Does my worrying about it now change the outcome of the test? Absolutely not. The test is over and I now must trust God. Last week I failed to remember that I shouldn’t worry because I must trust God.

We will all face challenges similar to, and certainly more trying than, my three day test. All of us must ask ourselves: In the face of difficulty, are we prepared to live in God’s power and trust him? If not, are you prepared to learn those lessons the hard way? God is faithful, and because of that, we can trust that he will empower us to see us through whatever the challenge. So, what is your test this week? Will you lean on God and trust him as you walk through it?