This week's installment of our Women at Work series highlights the experience of one of our own adjunct Biblical Studies professors, Jeannine Hanger. Professor Hanger shares her journey of navigating the sometimes conflicting desires in career, motherhood and church, and reminds us that walking with the Lord in these questions may be a life-long process. So read on - and be encouraged by the story of one who has gone before you!
Have you ever been stuck behind a passing train, held back from your destination? I’ve often gotten stuck behind that train on Rosecrans on my commute to Biola, tapping my foot impatiently as I try to get to class on time. What wells up in you as you try to hurry but are forced to wait? I don’t like to wait. I don’t think many of us do. I also don’t like to move slow. When I am going somewhere, even on a “leisurely” hike, I am not meandering. I am working on getting to my destination.
I was 2 years into my marriage and 26 years old when I finally figured out what I “wanted to be when I grew up.” I was also one year into my first seminary degree, taking classes as a way to spend time with my future-pastor husband on a Saturday (in a theology class - how romantic!). My husband was on a road toward full time vocational ministry, but that year I discovered a love of academia at Talbot School of Theology: the Lord had given me a passion and calling to teach the Bible, and I hoped to do so in a university setting.
But there were some delays, since as it would happen, we had an even greater desire to start our family. So we did, amidst seminary pursuits and lots of odd jobs to stay afloat. In the midst of this, something had to give, and we both chose to slow down my career path: I was going to play the long game. My whole life I had envisioned being the primary caretaker for my children, as this was what was modeled for me. So there I was: a stay-at-home mom and part-time grad student,wanting with all my heart to teach the Bible to college students and also wanting with all my heart to be there for my kids’ early years.
As a full time mom I continued in part-time classes towards my Th.M., a degree that would qualify me to teach part-time (you know the old saying: when your babies are napping, you write that paper on the pastoral epistles!). And then one day, amidst writing my thesis and stay-at-home mom’ing my 3 kids, I landed an adjunct role: I got a phone call from Biola while waiting in line at Disneyland for Dumbo. I joyfully and a bit fearfully began teaching that very next week - and I haven’t looked back.
You could say it was at that point when I began living out “what I wanted to be when I grow up,” except I wanted to teach full time at a university and I needed a PhD. When my kids were babies a PhD program seemed inconceivable. While my husband would have left his full-time pastoral role and moved the entire family to my school of choice, the Lord said to wait. So I hunkered down and waited. And I waited. I waited on the Lord to say, “Now is the time…” I waited for my kids to get old enough to go off to school. Kid #1…kid #2…kid #3… And then I waited some more. That train took a long time to pass all the way through the intersection.
And when it was finally time, it was very clear the Lord ordained it: the doors opened, the PhD program commenced, and I entered the most difficult, busy season of my entire life. And it is such a mixed bag. I am not guaranteed that I will earn that PhD. This program is the hardest thing I have ever done. I am surrounded by men (and some dear-to-me women) in a male-dominated field, a few of them younger than I, who have already completed their degrees. One friend started his bachelor’s degree at 18 after I was already a grad student, studying Greek and pregnant at 30 - and he still finished his PhD before me. Mine has been the long, slow path.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t excruciating on some days. The feeling that I have not quite “arrived” is familiar: I get to teach, but it’s only a sliver of the involvement I would like to have on campus. As a woman in a conservative church it is difficult to fully exercise my particular gifts, so I contribute where I can. As a mom I am completely there for my kids, but I am not on the PTA and I don’t volunteer to be team mom or room parent, because I have to study, write, or grade papers. I’m a part of several worlds, and yet I am not fully in them.
In it all, I have no regrets about my choices. If there were more hours in the day I would have packed in that PhD sooner than later, but I still have many more years of “career-ing” left in me. This particular path means that by the time I “arrive” in my career, launched into a full-time role, I will be closer to empty-nester than undergraduate student. For the most part, I have made peace with the long game in a world that praises the instant success of young prodigies, even when it goes against the grain to celebrate being a forty-something who is still in school, still trying to reach that career goal. For me, the Lord has ordained the slow path.
Oh sure, I can fall into the comparison trap with the best of them, feeling like I am stuck behind that long train learning German and trying to write a 100,000 word paper that will be worthy of those three cherished letters. But I have learned that when you are straining toward a goal, it is important remember that you are only one person who can do one thing in that one moment you have been given. God has ordained us to live in the realm of time - we only get this moment, and the next, and the next. If I am writing, then I write. If I am at my son’s little league game, I eat a hot dog and cheer him on. If God has ordained it for me to reach this career goal, He will get me there in His timing. I trust Him on that one.
And when I get anxious that it is taking too long, He encourages me to embrace the moment. And when that fails, I am reminded of the all too real but often-forgotten truth: we don’t even know if we have tomorrow, so we must live now with gratitude for the present. Only the Lord knows if I will ever reach my goal, but in the meantime I can love those in my midst and work with all my heart at the tasks set in front of me right now. It may feel like the world is passing me by as I drive the soccer carpool while reviewing Greek paradigms, but there is value in the long game, waiting on the Lord, waiting with the Lord. There is beauty in the waiting.