Why I’m in Law School

I used to think that law school was just for learning law; that’s all I really wanted out of it. And now, a couple months in, I’ve learned some law.  But I’ve also gotten some things that I didn’t bargain for. In particular, I’ve gotten a great deal of stress about grades and my future. And I’ve gotten this overwhelming feeling that my performance in school is what ultimately defines me as a person.

Obviously, I don’t like these things. I’ve prayed to God to take them away from me, and I still do. But whereas before I viewed them as entirely incidental to my law school experience, I’m starting to see them as an integral part of it. And that’s because, for me, law school isn’t just for learning law. It’s also about becoming a more devoted servant of Christ. God is using law school to bring my sinful tendencies out where I can see them and repent from them.

It’s hard not to view this as a nuisance, at best, and a curse, at worst. I want to pursue my studies unencumbered by these feelings of stress and inadequacy, so that I can do my very best. Repenting from idolatry is hard, and so is law school. Why do two such difficult things at the same time? Wouldn’t it be better to space them out? Sort of like how you might avoid taking multiple notoriously challenging courses during the same term.

Of course, in law school we take an absurd number of credits during the first term. There’s no time to warm up. You just get thrown into the deep end. At Harvard, we take 18 credits during the first term. But during your second and third years, you only need to average 12 credits per term to graduate. It’s quite imbalanced. But I think that’s by design. The shock has some sort of pedagogical function. And 1Ls that make it through the first term come out stronger than they were at the start.

Similarly, God is not going to wait until the easy times of our lives to teach us the things we need to learn. And he certainly does not let us hold onto our idols just a little longer, until a time that’s more convenient for us. I need to stop worshiping the idols of academic excellence and professional achievement and be a fully devoted servant of God. And the best time to repent from my idolatry is now.

What I said at the beginning of this post isn’t actually accurate. I don’t just want to learn law. I want to get excellent grades and graduate near the top of my class. I want to get one of the most competitive and prestigious jobs available. I want credentials that show people that I am important and brilliant and talented. And there is a part of me that wants those things to the exclusion of everything else, a part of me that worships them.

God is killing that part of me. Slowly, painfully putting it to death.

I don’t want to be captured by the pursuit of vain honors. I want to worship, honor, and serve God. He is using my law school experience to show me all the ways in which I foolishly choose vain honors over him. He is showing me the extent of my sinfulness in a way that I couldn’t see before. And by doing that, he is helping me to become more righteous and more faithful.

If law school makes me a more faithful servant of God, then it will be worth it, even if I don’t get the grades or the job that I want. Grades, jobs, honors—they are vapors, and pursuing them is striving after the wind. But God endures forever.

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Confidence in the Flesh

I’m back in school now. And now that I’m back in school, I’ve found that two of my more destructive tendencies have come to the fore again. First, I constantly seek to prove to myself that I’m better than others, and I take pride in myself when I think I’ve succeeded. Second, I worry constantly that I’m not as great as I think I am. These are two sides of the same coin. When your sense of self-worth comes from your perceived superiority to others, you will feel insecure. Because at some point, someone will be better than you.

I have been learning how to fight these tendencies for my entire life. As early as elementary school, I evaluated myself on the basis of my abilities relative to my peers. And whenever I felt that I came up short, I felt awful about myself. Even if it was something I didn’t particularly care about. In third grade, we had to draw a map of the world from memory. One of my classmates, Zhong, did a great job (although he did forget to draw Australia). I can’t remember how mine turned out, but I do remember being upset with myself to the point of crying because his was so much better. Why was I so bothered? Drawing wasn’t even “my thing.”

Over time, my expectations of myself became somewhat more reasonable. I didn’t have to be the best at everything, just my things, i.e. academics. I didn’t need to be the most talented when it came to art or athletics, but I did need to get the best grades. And, for the most part, I could. And I did. And because I did, I’ve been able to preserve this unhealthy way of thinking about myself and my worth. I have “proven” to myself that I can rely on my abilities and achievements to give me value.

But I know that I can’t rely on my abilities and achievements to give me value. I know that’s not where value fundamentally comes from. And I know this because I don’t value other people in my life solely for their abilities and achievements; I value them because of who they are.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:

1Finally, my brothers,a rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

2Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of Godb and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,c blameless. 7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

The word translated “rubbish” in the ESV is σκύβαλον, which basically means animal excrement. The connotation is of utter worthlessness, and even of disgust. Paul looks at his fleshly advantages and assigns them the same value as excrement in comparison to the value of knowing God.

I am a Christian, and I know that God has adopted me as his son, making me an heir to his eternal kingdom. In comparison to that, what are my grades? What is this degree I’m getting? It’s all “rubbish.”

But I have this constant worry that I won’t get the grades I want, or that my degree won’t be conferred with the kind of honors that I hope for, or that I won’t get a sufficiently prestigious job. I tear myself apart over things which are ultimately trivial, because I have convinced myself that they are important. Or perhaps I have managed to convince myself that I can trust myself more than I can trust God. Either way, I have made myself into a fool by putting my confidence in the flesh.

I pray, as I have for years, that God will give me the ability to trust in him instead of in myself, that he will take away my pride. I don’t want to put my confidence in the flesh. It’s exhausting and miserable. I feel as if I’m constantly in this precarious position where my entire sense of self depends on how I do on the next assignment I turn in. And I don’t want to feel like that. As I always have, I need to be delivered from my own pride.