“Ancora imparo (I am still learning).” -Michelangelo, Age 87
2019 is well underway and I’ve spent weeks trying to come up with new blog topics. It happens way more often than I’d like to admit. I sit and think for days on end about what I haven’t written about yet, what would be interesting for people to read about, and what would be super relevant.
It’s exhausting. I rarely come up with anything. And if I do, the topics aren’t super authentic or relevant for me in life right this moment. And because of that, they usually won’t end up as blog posts. I like these posts to be reflective of what’s really taking up space in my brain lately. It’s what feels the most real.
I can get super caught up in asking all the wrong questions. When actually, there’s plenty to talk about if I just plunk myself down and set to untangling some things that have been filling up my days.
And lately I can sum up many of my thoughts lately with this: I like being a sponge.
You read that right.
I like learning. I like sitting for hours surrounded by stories I haven’t read, sermons I haven’t heard, and people who have more life experience than I do. I like taking notes on all of these things, absorbing them as they tell me their stories and lessons, until I feel like I’m full. I could do it for weeks on end. Listening to albums of music, song by song, writing down lyrics that echo long after I’m done. Reading reading reading. Always reading. Collecting all the stories I can make the time for. I do these things without trying. It’s what fills up my free time, sometimes without me even realizing it until days later.
I think I avoid mentioning the sponge thing sometimes because I wish the metaphor was a bit more glamorous and less like some kind of prickly ocean creature. I like the idea of A Great Collector For My Mind Palace or a connoisseur of sorts, but those don’t feel accurate. The metaphor I can’t get away from remains a sponge and I’ve decided I’m okay with it.
Maddie, the Sponge. Nice to meet you.
One of my resolutions this year was to take that I like learning attitude and apply it in a broader sense. I want to be able to sit in any room, across from any person, and admit that they have something to teach me. Something I can learn from. It’s easy to have that approach with preachers and worship leaders and mentors and guiding figures I’ve come to trust and agree with, but I’ve found it harder among my peers sometimes, or people who act/speak in ways that I would not. I find it challenging to let someone teach me something when they are less experienced than me in areas, or when I’ve seen some of their messier humanity.
An ugly truth, but there it is. An area where my pride comes calling and puffs itself up real big.
So, I’ve decided to work on that a bit.
I want to be the kind of person who can listen to someone, disagree with what they say, and still be teachable.
Not gullible or manipulated or easily swayed from what I believe to be right, but teachable. Even if it’s learning who I don’t want to be.
I like the sponge metaphor because I feel like I go through repetitive seasons. Sometimes the sponge is in the soaking season and has to take time to refill. It has to plop itself down in the soapiest water it can find and absorb as much as it can hold. I have to be still. I have to listen to the wisdom and the stories and the advice from other people on this planet and decide which ones I’m going to collect somewhere inside and soak in for a while.
I don’t want to throw out the best wisdom because it was delivered by a messenger younger than me, or “more immature than me”, or inconsiderate about their delivery.
Sometimes God sends us messages in envelopes we don’t like. They stare at our pride until it’s forced to sit down, growing our humility. Our ready willingness to admit that we just might not have everything figured out.
This is not to say that everything should be soaked up and heeded, of course. There are plenty of people who spout plenty of opinions and messages that aren’t healthy to take to heart at all. But I can still learn. I can learn what not to type out and release to the internet. I can learn how not to treat people. How not to respond to criticism. And on and on the list goes.
I want to soak up every bit of it, unafraid of telling someone when they’ve taught me a good thing, and some seasons are for doing just that.
Then sometimes I feel like for a brief amount of time, the weather shifts, and the sponge is as full as it can be at this time. And it’s time for the wringing. The bubbling over.
I can easily admit I have not mastered this part either. Sometimes my outlet is a healthy one. I can write, like I’m doing now, and weave in the things that I’m learning that way. Or sometimes a friend will ask me what is going on in life right now and I tell her about the amazing things the Lord has been teaching me. How different my perspective now is on this, that, and the other. How glad I am that the girl I used to be has grown into something more.
But other times it’s not so healthy. I can try to give my advice and opinions and stories where they are 100% not wanted, or even appropriate, and drown the poor person in my suffocating sense of knowledge and superiority. I can twist a conversation that someone else has started and make it all about me and bestow upon them my grand solution to their problem, as if they surely had never considered such genius before.
The pride part is there. All puffed up and prickly. Perhaps trying to overcompensate for how much I don’t know.)
That’s not how I want to make people feel. That’s not a pristine soapy sponge anymore. Those bubbles have got some mold, and anywhere the sponge goes, it leaves a stinky trail. It belongs in the garbage.
No, I want to be a good sponge. Soapy all over. Content to sit and wait and soak and learn, rather than being so eager to sound all impressive.
And then, when the sponge is full, I’ve learned that God’s direction and timing is much better than mine when it comes to letting all those bubbles I’ve collected impact other people.
I decided to give him permission recently to wring out that sponge whenever and however and for whoever He deemed fit. (As if He needs my permission, right?) I also decided to stop wringing the sponge myself just because I feel like I’ve been “soaking” long enough. He should be the one to apply the pressure, not my want to appear knowledgeable or smart in comparison to anyone else.
There are so many voices out there. Especially on social media, and I love the potential for good in that. I love that everyone gets to have a voice and use the platforms that they build for good things. But there is this tendency to scroll through what everyone else has to say and be left wondering, What do I have to say after all that? What smart, clever, concise thing can I add after all that?
There’s this insistence from the obscure “them” that pushes for “posting often” and “writing longer captions” and “using your voice” that I think we forget we are allowed to take a breather. We are allowed to sit and soak and learn on our own terms while being completely disconnected from voices that have become more noise than anything else. And we don’t have to spit out the words like pop-quiz answers the next day. We don’t have to be constantly constructing our own response to each and every little thing.
I’m all for engaging in the conversation. I’m not in any way trying to silence anyone. But I am looking at the people who feel the pressure to make noise just for the sake of making noise just because that’s what everyone else has been doing.
Rest assured. You do not have to. You do not have to apologize for “being inactive” for the past few days online. Dear one, take a year off and don’t apologize for it once. You’re allowed to soak rather than wring out content for the endless appetite of the consumer, and you can soak for as long as you want. As long as it takes to feel full again.
And soaking can take many forms. I’ve recently discovered the joy of podcasts and I love them. They let me learn from writers and musicians and speakers and thinkers and dreamers who broaden my perspective of the world. I especially love the ones that focus on calling out the gold in the people around them – *cough* *cough* That Sounds Fun by Annie F. Downs *cough* *cough*.
(Particularly this episode right here: http://www.anniefdowns.com/2018/06/22/that-sounds-fun-podcast-episode-83-andrew-peterson/ Just listen. I promise you’ll love it.)
Spending time in different places can be considered soaking too. Getting outside of my own little world, and plopping myself down in different places teaches me so much. Primarily, that the world is always way bigger than me. That so many people lead lives that are entirely unique and different than mine and getting a glimpse at their world can teach me something if I let it.
Usually, my place of choice is as coffee shop, but recently, I have loved spending time at this place called The Fig Tree in the town where I live. People from all over come to sit and pray, or to sing with the worship songs that play in the main room, or to scribble down conversations with God in their notebooks. No one has an agenda. It’s so calm and peaceful, and I always leave refreshed.
There’s no picture I could take that would do it justice, and that would defeat the point anyway. Learning in the hope that other people recognize that you’re knowledgeable isn’t really a love of learning. It’s a love of recognition.
To truly love learning is to show up for lessons even when you won’t get credit or acknowledgement for them. Even if no else is going to see. Even if it seems like there’s probably a dozen more productive uses for my time. Even if the message comes from someone I’ve assumed doesn’t know as much as me.
I like being a sponge. For both the soaking season and the bubbling-over season.
In summary, in 2019 I want to be a better sponge. I want to learn and learn a lot.
- I’m learning that eventually, the things that we have been soaking up are going to come out of us, in our words or in our behavior, because the pressure will always come at some point. Knowledge does no good stuck up in my little brain. It has to be used somehow. And I’d rather it be for adding bubbles that refresh and heal and revive, rather than for making an even worse moldy mess.
- I’m learning that we can choose which pressures we’re going to listen too.
- I’m learning that my perfectionism and eagerness to please others (at the expense of my good judgement) are not pressures that I should let run the show.
- I’m learning that soaking seasons last longer than bubbly seasons, and I shouldn’t try to rush it.
- I’m learning over and over that quality is still better than quantity.
- I’m learning to be teachable in conversations and situations where my pride would rather do the teaching.
Questions to soak in for a while:
What are some of the things that you have been learning recently?
Are there certain people you have a hard time learning from?
Have you ever felt the need to make noise just because everyone else is too, even if you feel like you’re in a “soaking” time rather than a “teaching” time?
What are some things you would like to learn in 2019?
Stick around for “Getting It Wrong: I Am Still Learning – Part Two” that will be posted next week!