by Rhiannon Blaauw Erskine
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space. Learn more here >
After many years of working at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, I switched gears and moved from research to teaching at a well-respected Christian college. I found the life of a professor very intense. I was on a rollercoaster between deep lows of inadequacy and exhaustion, and invigorating highs of seeing God use me to work in my students’ lives. I was teaching more than physics and astronomy; I was sharing my life and faith, digging into how faith informs our practices as scientists.
A few months into this, I walked into our department office, feeling flat. I didn’t want to teach that day. Not because I didn’t love my job but because I felt deeply inadequate. How was I going to edify these students spiritually when I felt empty myself? Our office coordinator, an older Irish woman, Mary, asked me how I was doing and so I gave her my honest answer: “I’m afraid that what I bring to the table is not enough.” Mary isn’t a big talker, but I know she prays for our department a whole lot. I wasn’t looking for or expecting some deep meaningful insight; I was just looking to share and to know she would be praying for my classes that day. What she said, however, was the single most meaningful lesson I’ve received in teaching.*
“What you bring to the table doesn’t have to be enough. You give what you can and God will multiply it like the fish and loaves” she said offhand this while filing papers, charmingly oblivious to how significant her message was.
I went back to my office. I only had a few minutes before class but I had to process this. I turned in my Bible to Luke 9, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Jesus is teaching a crowd of people in a fairly isolated place and the crowd starts to get real hungry.
You know what happens next – the disciples take stock of what food they have and it turns out that only have 5 barley loaves and 2 fish – brought by a young boy. The boy offers this food, and Jesus blesses it and breaks the bread and the disciples start passing it around. Everyone - *thousands of people*!!! – eat and are satisfied.
This story changed the way I viewed teaching. I knew I was in over my head. I felt that every day. But the story of the loaves and fishes reassured me that while what I offer is not enough, he will multiply it and make enough to feed his people. I can rejoice in my insufficiency, without feeling discouraged. This is now my prayer at the beginning of every lesson. Every physics lesson, every Bible study, every short devotion. Lord, I entrust this teaching to you. Multiply it and make it enough. Fill your people. Satisfy them through my offering.
When you are called to something that feels harder than what you can actually accomplish - You do the work of giving what you can. And God will multiply what you bring to the table. He takes what we can offer, and he makes it enough.
*Shared with permission from my office coordinator.
Rhiannon Blaauw Erskine is a lecturer at Wheaton College in the physics and engineering department. Through her prior work for NASA, Rhiannon received the name of an asteroid, 10279 Rhiannonblaauw! She is passionate about astronomy, evangelism, and the integration of science and religion. If you want to hear more from Rhiannon, check out this talk or this radio interview.