Paradoxical Lessons

As I was deciding on a concise description of this past semester, I tried to think of my most frequently used word. My roommate would tell you that my most frequently used phrase is “Wait, what?” (That’s also a fairly good summary of my semester.) But a word I don’t remember using until this semester is “bizarre.” Many circumstances of this semester were pretty bizarre and unprecedented in my life. When I searched for synonyms of “ironic,” which is another descriptive word for some situations this semester, I found the word “paradoxical.” Dictionary.com gives two definitions of paradoxical:

  1. having the nature of a paradox; self-contradictory.
  2. Medicine/Medical. not being the normal or usual kind
I would definitely say that circumstances of this semester weren’t “the normal or usual kind.” Even my takeaways from this semester are paradoxical, seemingly contradictory. But since God typically doesn’t use “normal” situations to reveal His extraordinary truths, I’m going to share my takeaways anyways.

How to Embrace My Inner SJ

I’d never taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality assessment before this semester. Being surrounded by huge Myers-Briggs fans helped me become proficient in (or at least somewhat knowledgeable about) the personality types. I am an ISFJ and, thus, an SJ temperament. This means that I’m very detail-oriented and like things to go according to set plans. I very much prefer my Sensing nature over my Intuitive nature, especially in stressful situations. My proudest SJ moment of the semester was the weekend following the first week of class. On that Saturday morning, I woke up with a burning, 9 out of 10 pain in my right foot with every step I took. This pain really came out of nowhere–the only other times I had felt a 9 or above had been following invasive procedures. The SJ in me got to work immediately, determining that I would continue with as many commitments as possible, until I could see a doctor for a steroid injection. Since this occurred over the weekend, I knew that the earliest I could see my doctor would be the following Tuesday. I made plans to save my skips (which definitely came in handy at the end of the semester), since I would likely need to miss classes following the injection. Everything actually went according to this plan, when I found out that I had an inflamed nerve. I had saved my skips for just the right time; being able to rest after the injection allowed it to actually work. I’m glad that I planned to push through the high intensity of pain to get a lasting result afterwards.

How to Become Less SJ

On the other hand, detailed planning can only get you so far. I began this school year with a concentration in flute. With increased difficulty of supporting my flute with my weakest (yet dominant) hand, I decided to switch my concentration to piano for the spring semester. While there were other reasons for this change, I was convinced to make the switch at the thought of making my life easier. Plot twist: Being a piano major is not easy. The good news about switching my principal instrument is that I’m 99% sure that I don’t have tendinitis in my hand anymore. The bad news came with the unexpected subluxation (partial dislocation) of my dominant hand. Didn’t see that one coming. This increased laxity in my hand joints made the rest of the semester not impossible but incredibly difficult. My muscles began to go into overdrive, since my joints were less dependable. Preparing for a technique jury (scales and arpeggios–which I hadn’t played the entire time I was a flute major) led to muscular fatigue and dramatic collapses onto the floor of practice rooms. However, I survived and will be continuing as a piano concentration.

As my Myers-Briggs temperament will suggest, I’m not very Intuitive, and I’m not much of a Perceiver. I tend to get wrapped up in what’s directly in front of me and become paralyzed when things don’t go according to plan. Especially on the day of the subluxation, I became mad at God for this new symptom, for this new interruption to my plans for success. Dietrich Bonhoeffer states in his book Life Together that “we must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God…we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.” It takes an Intuitive mindset to see how our good God interrupts us for our own good, and this definitely isn’t my first instinct. But after some time, I realized that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t hold myself together: I completely fall apart without Him, in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

How to Live Without Comfort

This semester promoted the obliteration of my comfort zones, musically, physically, and spiritually. Musically, this semester held many “firsts,” especially as a piano major. The most musically uncomfortable situation in which I found myself was an assignment of improvisation. “Just play something” stressed out the diehard SJ in me. But I survived the many “firsts” of piano and composition studies, as I learned to embrace the awkward.

I also had to emBRACE my physical pain, as I learned to persevere through more discomfort than ever before. In addition the new symptoms I mentioned above, all of my previous symptoms (except tendinitis) remain and have maintained the role of thorns in the flesh. This semester was different in that I didn’t have any planned appointments during the semester. Especially in the fall of this past year, I was able to look forward to the hope of new diagnoses or treatment options while still persevering through school. I didn’t have THAT hope this semester because I am still waiting on new appointments in the coming days and weeks. I had to learn to live without the comfort of situational hope and, instead, to rest in eternal hope.

In my journaling Bible, I have written next to James 5:16 (“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…”), “If you have it all together, why do you need Jesus?” Over the past year, I’ve been attempting to be more vulnerable about my struggles because His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In the context of biblical community, I have learned to experience the beauty of brokenness, despite the discomfort it may bring.

How to be Comforted

Through the experience of vulnerability, God has provided more comfort than I could have imagined. I’ve learned that people are searching for God’s truth about the hardships of life, but most are not willing to voice their concerns. Through the discomfort of speaking up (because I’m unapologetically an introvert), I have found comfort in finding others who struggle in similar ways. Voice cracks can be the most melodious sound to the ears of those hurting and can inspire others to use their broken voices.

Fear of the future has been a running theme in my life for a while now, and I’m just now realizing how prevalent it is in my life. But 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” I have to admit that I used to worry about circumstantially being punished for my sins. But this fear is irrelevant with the presence of God’s perfect love. My biggest relief of this semester was the realization that God is not out to get me. The pain I experience is evidence that the enemy is out to get me, but by taking a step back and looking at the big picture, I can now see all the ways that God is working on my behalf. His goodness is evident in every situation He placed me in this semester. While I might not have immediately responded to these situations as He would have me respond, His faithful grace remained and will continue to sustain me.

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