Using My Head, to the Glory of God
What college taught me about thinking and believing
Candles flickered in the dusk as 400 of my graduating classmates filed across the second-story cloister walk of our ivy-clad college. It was early May, the evening of the school's annual Candle and Rose ceremony, a longstanding tradition that celebrates the outgoing class the night before graduation.
I stood on the podium, a sea of seniors' faces before me, and delivered my final college speech. I've long since lost the transcript, but I've never forgotten the essence of it. In fact, if I had to give a speech today to the college self I was then, I'd probably say the same things.
I'd still talk about the professors, many of them Catholic nuns, who modeled what the intersection of godly living and scholarship looks like. These women devoted their lives to teaching students how to think critically, articulate thoughts and ideas logically and persuasively, and write clearly. They formed and infused our worldview with faith, teaching us to see all learning through the lens of caritas et veritas—love and truth—my college's motto.
As an English major, this meant analyzing literary works for clues to the author's beliefs and signs of God's redemptive work in the characters and storylines. It meant learning to research and write with integrity and intellectual curiosity. It meant savoring the artistry and beauty of great writing, both for sheer delight and as a means of praising God for his creative force working in and through writers. Knowing how hard it is to craft a decent sentence, much less to get it to sing, I'm in even greater awe now than I was in college of writers who make writing seem effortless.
In college, I saw the nuns spend hours in the library doing advanced research in their fields. Sister Clemente, for instance, who was my college advisor and remains a dear friend today, is an expert on Piers Plowman, a Middle English allegorical narrative poem. Years after graduating, I returned to her classroom and got to drink in another lesson on Piers from her. She explained how William Langland's poem had fed her soul for years. She dove deep into this literary pool and has been swimming in it her whole life. She showed me what a life of intellectual depth looks like, and she shared her passion for this work, offering us beauty, love, and truth by it.
My college education taught me what it means to love God with my heart, soul, and strength, but also with my mind. Loving God is a holistic practice—we use our head as much as our heart. As Christians though, too many times we leave our intellect at the door and embrace faith blindly, or we resist faith because we can't make the intellectual leap to believe.
In the workplace, Diane Paddison, featured contributor for TCW, sees this troubling disparity between how we view faith and intellect:
"On one hand, I see a work environment that worships intellect to an unhealthy degree. On the other, I see a Christian culture that is increasingly willing to create a polite distance from intellectual pursuits. Something needs to change. It's terribly important that we bridge this gap and show the world that you can be smart, educated, reasonable, and have a vibrant Christian faith."
In her article, "Smart Ways to Live Your Faith at Work," Diane offers four ways to love God with our whole self, including our mind, in our work world. (By the way, be sure to subscribe to Diane's free, new TCW e-newsletter, "Lifework," for encouragement for living out your faith at work.)
Nicole Unice and David Dwight address some of the intellectual obstacles that keep people from coming to faith, such as why there is evil in the world, Jesus as the only way, and evolution. They offer practical insights for how to respond when you're confronted with these same questions from unbelievers.
For some women, loving God with our whole self means choosing to leave the workplace to raise a family. This can be a hard transition, especially if you've been mentally engaged with stimulating work that has challenged your mind and stretched you intellectually. Let's face it, being home with kids isn't always the most mentally stimulating environment. But Sherry Surratt, CEO of MOPS and a TCW featured contributor, shares her personal story of leaving her professional life for a season and learning to put her mind to work at home instead. Her story, "When Smart Women Choose to Stay Home," will be an encouragement to every woman who's decided to use her smarts at home instead of at work.
Whatever season of life you're in, you're called to love God with your mind, heart, soul, and strength. May you give glory to him with your whole self.
Written by Marian V. Liautaud
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