April 27 of this year marked a change of direction in my life. That was the day the president of my university where I’ve taught for the past fourteen years shared a video with the faculty and informed us that due to COVID-19, thirty-four full-time faculty would not be returning in the fall. That was shocking, to be sure. I felt bad for those thirty-four, whoever they were. I surely couldn’t be one of them, I reasoned, because I had another year on my contract. Shortly after watching the video, I received the e-mail that informed me that I indeed was one of the “chosen.” The final year of my contract would not be honored. And I wasn’t the only one in that category. I immediately became aware that three other colleagues—all friends of mine who had been there many years—also had their final year cut off.
How does one respond to shocking news that ends thirty-one consecutive years of being a full-time history professor at Christian universities? Well, of course I was severely disappointed. Although I might have considered retirement at my age, the finances were not yet at retirement level. I needed a few more years to build up to the point where I would feel comfortable with what we had saved. “Comfortable,” though, is not always God’s way.
This was the kind of news that could conceivably create resentment, anger, and bitterness in one’s heart. Yet the Lord has never failed to speak to me through a passage in the book of Hebrews that deals directly with that temptation:
Pursue peace with everyone, as well as holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God, and that no root of bitterness springs up to cause trouble and defile many.Hebrews 12:14-15
Was I disappointed in the decision of the university administration? Sure. Was I going to rage about it publicly? No. Was I going to become bitter? With God’s help through His grace, I have sought to avoid that trap. The Hebrews passage tells me to pursue peace with everyone and warns me that without a holy attitude, I will not see the Lord and will fall short of His grace. Further, if I harbor bitterness, it will only cause trouble; it will be like those ripples in the pond that eventually affect many others.
One of the blessings of these past few months of staying close to home has been the practice of taking early morning walks. These have become treasured times for me as I’m able to use them for more focused prayer. They have helped keep my heart right and grow my faith that the Lord will, as He has promised, take care of those who belong to Him.
To help with the finances, we decided to sell our house, an endeavor that has occupied a lot of our time. Yet we had a buyer in less than two weeks. We settled on it last week and now have a more robust fund to draw upon, if necessary (but I really don’t want to—not yet, at least). We are now living in a condo. Moving has its stresses, yes, but we will get past those and life may get back to something approaching normal. And, to be honest, I won’t miss weeding and pruning palm trees. I have no problem leaving those activities in the past.
Perhaps surprisingly, I will still be teaching at my university this coming year, albeit as an adjunct professor with no benefits and a fraction of my former pay. Some have wondered why I would do that, and a few have even said that it would be demeaning to go back in that lowered status. I understand the sentiment, but I have my reasons.
First, I continue to enjoy teaching Christian university students. The history majors who remain need the courses I teach and I want to help them learn and complete their degree program. I truly do love them and want to be available to them.
Second, the extra income, while relatively small, nevertheless will be helpful. That’s just a good stewardship decision as long as the opportunity presents itself.
Third, it puts me on the front line spiritually in the sense that I will have to live out my commitment to avoid bitterness. This will be a test, but one that I sincerely wish to pass. Professors don’t only give tests; they have to take them from the Lord sometimes.
Will I ever again be a full-time professor? That’s in God’s hands. The sooner we learn to trust Him with our future, the greater peace we will have. That seems like an appropriate thought upon which to end this post. Jesus told His disciples something at The Last Supper that applies to us as well:
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.John 14:27
With His help, I will do my best not to be troubled or afraid. With His help, I will accept the peace He offers.