I'm Not Qualified

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

This morning, by some miracle, I ran 3.5 miles. (Why the arbitrary 3.5? Well, it’s what I mistakenly thought a 5K was.) It might not seem like that far or that big of a deal, but for me, this was huge. You see, until this last winter, the only time I had run was when something was chasing me, even if it was my high school gym teacher. I have a whole list of reasons why I can’t or shouldn’t run. I have asthma. I have a muscle disorder that gives me a lot of hip and knee pain. I have chronic migraines that can be aggravated by exercise. I get heat exhaustion. I could go on. I’m really good at thinking of reasons for things. But not really good at running.

Why did I start? Partly because my sister was doing it. Mostly because I was planning to take a backpacking trip for work (which unfortunately got canceled due to COVID-19) and my students had been informed that in order to go, they needed to be able to run a 5K in under a certain amount of time. It didn’t seem fair for me to impose a standard and then not keep it. So, with a workout plan made by my sister, I started – slowly – running.

I remember my first .25 miles. (Yes, my first run was only a quarter of a mile.) I thought I was dying. I was so proud of myself when I finished, too. It was a long five minutes. As I increased my distance, I thought I was getting better. Soon, I was able to run 1.5 miles with no breaks. But then came time to do 2 miles. There were a lot of factors that day that made it hard. It was hot. There were hills. I had forgotten I was supposed to run and had gone for a hike that morning. Whatever it was, even though I had felt so confident going in, I barely made it a mile before I stopped, panting. After that, it felt like I stopped to walk more than I ran. I was so discouraged.

But somehow I didn’t stop altogether. I ran in the rain and in the snow. In the woods and on trails. I hopped over fallen logs and ran back and forth next to a pond when my trail got overgrown. Most days, I stopped a lot. Some days I had to stop before my goal. Then, I twisted my ankle and for some reason thought it was still a good idea to run. I didn’t always like it or enjoy it, but I was kind of amazed by what my body could do, despite how unqualified it was.

And then today, my test, I ran on a track. A little kid, trying to say he was the fastest runner ever, pointed at me and said “she’s not the fastest!” Laughing, I called back “I know I’m not!” And it was true. I don’t know how long it took me, but three groups of people came and went before I finished. But I showed up. And I kept going. I stopped once for a few seconds to stretch, but other than that there were no breaks. I collapsed on the grass when I finished. I wasn’t sure how, but I had reached my goal. By the grace of God, I am sure. I was far from qualified, but I did it anyway.

I’ve been looking at jobs lately and there are so many qualifications I need to meet. Most things I want to do require at least a Master’s degree, if not a PhD. They want 3 years of experience in the field or a letter of recommendation from the president. Okay, I may have exaggerated a bit on that last one, but that’s what it can feel like. It’s easy to think I’ll never be qualified. Grad school is expensive and if every job wants experience, how do you get experience?

It brings to mind one of my favorite quotes, which I have seen attributed to Christine Caine: “God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.” Moses was supposed to lead God’s people to freedom, but he had a stutter. Surely, he wasn’t qualified. David was a shepherd – what kind of qualification is that to be king? Saul was a persecutor of Christians. What church would have looked at his resume and asked him, based on previous experience, to be pastor? Yet he wrote over half the New Testament and preached the gospel all over the Mediterranean! It makes me wonder if qualifications even matter. Surely, on some level, they do, but what if it mattered less that we check the boxes and more that we trust where we feel God leading us, even if it doesn’t look like it will get us further in our careers or make us a better grad school candidate.

I recently decided that if I wanted to get into a good grad school that is funded, I would have to get a research job to add to my qualifications. I wrote 11 cover letters in one day for jobs all over the U.S. But for some reason, I couldn’t quite make myself apply. Something felt off. I can’t easily explain it, but it felt like God was saying “no”. Well, that didn’t make sense. Surely, I would need to do that to get to the things that I feel him calling me to more long term. I would need to do research to get into a good clinical psychology program so that I can counsel people. That’s the neat, orderly, simple plan.

But I don’t know if I would describe God’s plans as simple. Surely, everything fits together perfectly, but it isn’t simple. I mean, it’s all of human history woven together so intricately. It’s extravagant! It’s incredible! It seems impossible! I may think that my life needs to go in a straight line, and maybe some peoples’ lives do, but sometimes I think God likes us to take the scenic route. It might seem like a detour to me, but that detour fits perfectly. And maybe I learn something or gain something or lose something that puts me right where I need to be later. We can’t know. We have to trust.

I don’t think that I’ll ever be perfectly qualified. But I have to trust that if God wants me somewhere, He’ll get me there. So, I’m going to apply for the dream job that I miss a qualification for. I’m not going to get a research job and trust that I’ll find the right school at the right time. I’m going to submit my book for publishing even though I don’t think it’s perfect. Nothing will be perfect this side of eternity.

My options, it seems, are hope or despair. Hope that says that I am not qualified but I will trust who God is, He who qualifies me, who says I am perfect and clean despite my sin, and live knowing that I have been created with a purpose and know a Creator who will get me there, even if it seems like the roundabout way. Or despair, which says I will never be perfect, never tries, resigns to do pointless things that aren’t life giving. I think I’ll choose hope. I think I’ll try. It might hurt more, but it is so worth it.

Today I ran 3.5 miles. I didn’t think I could. I wasn’t qualified. But I tried. I chose to hope. And somehow, despite all my reasons that I couldn’t, I did it. That’s what life is like. That’s what grace is like.

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