As soon as I opened the file, I could feel the bitterness rising in me. Maybe it was the impersonal greeting [INSERT FACULTY MEMBER’S NAME]. Perhaps it was the realization that the title of adjunct is discouraging enough without the new adjective of “unranked.” Possibly it was the two pages of provisions and requirements connected with a contract where the university wants both my commitment and their right to offer no guarantee.
It’s probably not so much about this letter as it is about experience with a long list of universities.
- Low pay that can be cut in half if the university fails to recruit enough students, or can be canceled without any notification.
- Expectations of work without a contract because of the wait for enrollment to increase, no gas allowance for out-of-town locations, no desk copy of the textbook, no help to pay for teaching materials, and good luck finding your way around technology.
- Letters that have long lists of what is expected of me, of what I am not eligible for because I am not legitimate faculty, and references to mysteriously absent handbooks.
- My slow but sure realization that excellence in teaching is not appreciated and in one case got me in trouble because my evaluation numbers were higher than the numbers of the person who hired me.
Yeah, I’m a bit bitter.
It is not so much about being mistreated as it is about being stuck. I am a fairly pragmatic person who when faced with a problem immediately looks for what I can do to make it better. But this situation can’t get better. Universities need to squeeze out as much revenue from graduate programs as possible, and contract instructors are a dime a dozen. If I were going to make this work, I would have to become satisfied with doing a sloppy job so I could improve the work to pay ratio. I would have to learn to play the game.
But instead, I feel bitter. And I must confess that sometimes bitterness feels good. Bitterness comes when I think I am purely a victim with no accountability for my actions. Bitterness feels justified when I think I have tried everything I can to remedy the situation and still it persists. Bitterness tells me that it’s all about me and my pain, and my perceived injustices. Bitterness can be as addictive as anger, or hate, or self-pity.
When I turn to scripture to seek a remedy for bitterness God’s word is both clear and condemning. These verses from Ephesians show me there is no justified bitterness.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you are sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:30-30 ESV
It looks like the bitterness option is off the table; likewise anger, slander, and even clamor. If I can’t spew anger, call people names, and cry out for sympathy then there isn’t any point. Or so it would seem from what the world tells me.
My bitterness grieves God. Jesus died for my redemption, and my bitterness says that amazing gift is not enough. It tells God I would prefer to model the behaviors I see on social media than live in the grace of God’s love for me. God is not telling me I cannot be sad. He gave us emotions to help us learn, to help us understand each other and to help us understand ourselves. But,when I turn that sadness, or frustration into bitterness, I am no longer looking to God for help. Not only that, but bitterness is one step away from contempt and contempt destroys relationships. Bitterness is as unhealthy as it is ungodly.
Instead, God asks me to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. The world tells me this is not a healthy response. I should stand up for myself, seek confrontation, and believe in myself. If I don’t look out for me, no one will.
I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. Ezekiel 34: 16 NIV
Here the scriptures tell me that God’s way is not the way of the world. My bitterness can lead to no good. My reliance on God, my realization of His love and protection, and my trust in His righteousness will lead to all the good I need.
I have been reading The Screwtape Letters with a group of friends, and one idea I found in this book that was new for me was that sometimes our misery is part of our service. It is not that God wants us to be miserable. It is not even that we deserve to be miserable (which we do.) It is learning how to trust God to shepherd His flock with justice -- even when we are miserable.
Bitterness is not mine any more than vengeance is mine. My work is to eat the grass, stay close to my flock, and listen for the Shepherd’s voice.
Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of Your anointed! For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a door keeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in You! Psalm 84: 9-12 ESV