Live Well

Could and Should

January 31, 2016

I turned 28 this year.

It was a big number for me.  28 signifies a road marker where life could have been very different. 5 years ago I had just finished up my Masters degree. I had been encouraged by my professors to go for my doctorate. I was at a crossroads moment. I could devote the next 5 years of my life primarily to getting my doctorate. Or I could do something else. I could take a different path and not be sure where I’d end up.

I had some great reasons to go after my doctorate. I love school and am a big fan of higher education. It’s also always bothered me that belief in God is rational yet it seems the higher your education level the less likely you are to agree. I thought, if I’m gonna teach people that belief in God is rational, then my best witness is to have the highest education, to be the best in my field. I reasoned my words would carry more weight then. And they would have. A great reason to get my doctorate.

Another reason was that I could. My professors believed I had the mind for it. Parents and professors alike talked to me about the responsibility of doing something with the mind God gave me. The burden of this responsibility ate away at me while this decision remained unmade. I’ve read the passages about those who are unfaithful with their gifts. It’s not a pretty picture.  It’s also very hard to stare down people you trust and say “yes I can, yes it would be great, yes it would build the Kingdom…but no.”

Maybe not so great a reason but still tempting–people were impressed with that option. I was moving to Nevada after Cheyne and I got married and my best job option was to be a substitute teacher. It wasn’t the most impressive job to my then fiance’s family. But “I’m also considering getting my doctorate,” well that was something they understood the value of.

So I stood at the crossroads and knew if I walked down this path I would be 28 when I got my doctorate.

But I chose a different path. To pursue my doctorate would have been to put everything else to the side for 5 years. And as much as I wanted a foot in the academy, my heart was in the Church.

I chose not to pursue my doctorate. I knew it would always be an option in the future but to turn down that opportunity would be a step in a different direction and a limiter on my life. It wasn’t the first time I chose to close a door nor even the hardest–but it was the one I was the most unsure about closing. And I always wondered if I would regret this decision.

So cue my 28th birthday. The year I would have finished my doctorate.

I woke up…with no regrets.

We don’t always get the privilege of making the right decision the first time around. But this time I thankfully did. And reflecting back on my last five years, there’s something important I’ve learned:

Not every could is a should.

All my life it seems like people have been saying “you could be great at this.” You’ve grown up in the same culture of fanatical excellence and you’ve probably heard it too. And it’s seemed to me with those words that a weight of responsibility always came with it. Because you could–you should. But standing at 28 without a doctorate, without regrets, I’ll tell you that just ’cause you can doesn’t mean you should.

What you should do is what God is asking you to. Period. End. No one else gets a vote. Not even you.

Chase down God-given dreams. Even when they mean closing great doors. Even when the path is less certain to turn out well. Even when they don’t make sense to other people. Even when you’re unsure. If saying yes to a God-given dream, which for me was giving my life to the Church, means you have to say no to something else–that’s just life. Not every could is a should. Let go of fear that you’re making the wrong choice. Jump full in and trust in God’s sovereignty even when it involves your confusion.

Cheyne’s family still asks me every time they see me whether I’m still considering getting my doctorate. But thankfully, 5 years later, I have a freedom and confidence to say I chose a different path. The one I should.

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  • Reply Kevin Casper January 31, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Dena: Has it been five years already? It doesn’t seem that long ago to me. I know how you feel as I to had to decide whether I would try to get a doctorate or bloom where I am planted with the soil that is already around me. Like you I weighed the benefits VS the costs and decided not to try for my doctorate.
    I think that it was also a good decision, given my age and circumstances. God bless you Dena and I wish, and pray that, you have the best Christian life that you can.

    • Reply denad February 2, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      Kevin! I miss our apologetics classes. I hope you are doing well!

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