At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. ~ C. S. Lewis in "The Weight of Glory"
In less than 24 hours, I will stand before an audience to summarize a portion of my research from the last 5 years. Afterwards, I will be behind closed doors, defending the choices I have made in that research and attempting to demonstrate my value as a scientist and an academic. If all goes as expected, I will be rewarded with the title of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in the field of Biophysics.
The most common questions I receive are "Are you nervous?" and "How do you feel?"
Am I nervous?
The answer again and again is a resounding "no". I have nothing to be nervous about. I spent 4 years in my undergraduate career studying the digitization and analysis of biological information (bioinformatics). Then I went on to begin my graduate career, studying the motion of macromolecules using classical physics (computational biophysics). So, in all, I've spent 9 years studying this material. From a preparation standpoint, I should be ready.
That's not to say that I'm unrealistic about my expectations for tomorrow. I fully realize that there exists the possibility that I fail; that my committee decides that I am not qualified (yet) to carry the academic title that comes with a doctorate. But this realism does not immediately translate into anxiety. Instead, my lengthy preparation for this moment leaves me with a sense of peace, as I have done nearly all I could on my end, and I can comfortably leave the situation in the hands of my creator. I will answer every question to the best of my ability and give a clear picture of the boundaries of my knowledge and understanding.
How do I feel?
This is a different question entirely. I often respond with "fine" or "ok". The intent of the question is discern my level of preparedness and anxiety, to which my response is the same as above. But, in a moment of clarity, I decided that the best description of my emotional, spiritual, and physical state is one of "heaviness".
There is a weight resting on my chest. A heavy weight that presses harder when I think through the shift ahead of me. My post-doctoral plans are very, very different than those of most of my graduate school colleagues. They will not carry me into a long and storied career of scientific research that cures ailments and brings new and interesting knowledge to mankind. Nonetheless, I'm more excited about my chosen path than I ever was about the scientific career. The ailments I hope to treat and the knowledge I desire to acquire might have far greater impact for the eternal and the unseen than any on the path I already had before me.
In "The Weight of Glory", one of my favorite pieces by C.S. Lewis, Lewis paints a few incredible word pictures that capture the significance of the eternal. One of the most quoted is the following:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
When you ask me to talk about the things that I am most passionate about, I have a tendency to get very emphatic and excited. I have no fear of making my opinion known, to talk up a storm, and to share every detail I know about a subject. These passions can range from my scientific interests, to the details of Wolverine's adamantium skeleton, to Project Blue Book (the Air Force's systematic review of UFO sightings), just to name a few. But one passion stands above the rest -- my savior and leader, Jesus.
I consider myself an extremely self-aware, self-reflective person. I love to mark moments in time, to "build an altar" if you will in the moments and places where I have met God intimately. This was common practice for God's people throughout scripture: whenever God made himself clear to man, an altar was built to mark the place and the occasion.
For me, this is one of those moments. Nine years of work and study is coming to its end. My career trajectory is shifting dramatically to fall more in alignment with my passions. From tomorrow forward, nothing will be the same.
God has given me so much and I'm aware of the declaration that much is expected from me. My hope is that my ceiling is high. My heart feels heavy and I can't wait to consider more and more the weight of His Glory -- both in this life and in the next.