“Ancora imparo (I am still learning).” -Michelangelo, Age 87
If you have been reading along, my previous post introduces something I’ve been spinning around like a funky Rubik’s cube in my head since the beginning of this year. (See previous post here for part one: “Sponge Talk: I Am Still Learning – Part One“) Here’s the continuation.
I think a lot of times we can have this tendency that leans toward never admitting when we have learned. Admitting when we were wrong and saying we now think and behave differently. I think part of it comes from a conceited sort of pride in “always having the right answer”. But I think that part is secondary and superficial. I really think that many times people do this are when they are severely doubting themselves. When they have thrown their best effort at understanding something and they doubt themselves so much that “having the right answer” serves as a kind of assurance that their fragile house of cards isn’t about to tumble down. I think it is so fragile to begin with because they have built their house on the firm conviction that only themselves can be trusted. So, everything depends on “getting it right”. But if I only trust myself, and I get it wrong, what in the world am I to do? The foundation of my card house gets cracked. Who else can I turn to to make my decisions?
For someone in this situation it is much easier to look at what someone else has said (a new truth revealed in a way that clicks in our brains) and say, “Yes, exactly, that’s what I meant this whole time.” Instead of admitting, “That! That is what actually makes sense! I was trying to find it before and hadn’t quite gotten there.”
The first statement is deceiving in a way that only hurts ourselves. Because no, that’s probably not what we had been doing or thinking at all, but our intentions were to get it right, and THAT thing they just said sounded much more right, so THAT’S what I must’ve meant this whole time. Sometimes people will even throw in “I just couldn’t articulate exactly what I meant like you just did.” It leaves us with a dangerous thought: “I knew that. I haven’t gotten it wrong.” Which means we haven’t acknowledged that we’ve learned.
There seems to be some kind of horrible avoidance to this learning concept.
We say we like school and learning, but really, what we really like, is sitting down to a math problem and getting it right on the first try. We like submitting our first drafts of our papers and getting glowing praise and a 110% grade. We like stepping into the audition room and blowing them away with our raw talent.
We don’t like hearing where we could improve. We convince ourselves that we do, of course. But if we took the criticism in stride and incorporated it in our second attempt and we STILL get it wrong, that’s not something we enjoy at all. We blame the teacher for being biased or blind. We think we’re failures. We would much rather be told than be taught. All the while avoiding the experience of getting it wrong, of course.
We want to file away someone’s insight, like a quote on an index card in our minds. We don’t want to have to know it to be true by forging each letter ourselves in the fires of failure.
Being wrong, and admitting as much, is avoided to an extreme degree.
As if by admitting you hadn’t gotten it quite right before was the same thing as admitting you were enjoying a dance with a demon or that your brain is made of play-doh. It’s not nearly as catastrophic as all that. Being wrong that is.
It is healthy to admit “being wrong” on a frequent basis. It doesn’t mean your intentions were bad. It doesn’t mean you put no effort into it. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure at all of life or that you’re weak or that you’re a child for not realizing and understanding every single thing since you first starting thinking about it all. It means you are growing. And growth is the mark that something is ALIVE and healthy.
If you never admit that you were wrong (or that you just didn’t know the answer) you can never look back and see growth in the exponential way that others who do admit this can. Don’t you want to be able to say, “I used to think this, but now I think this.” It doesn’t make you wishy washy. It doesn’t mean you don’t stand firm with what you believe. It means you want the truth more than you want to be right. Sometimes we have to re-evaluate golden things we’ve stood on for a long time and admit, “Hmmm, this might be a bit more hollow than I realized as a child, or last year, or yesterday.”
Healthy things grow. They can look back on the past year and say, “I’m so different now.” And they can say it with pride. Because they don’t hate their past self who hadn’t quite figured it out yet. They know they were trying so hard to get it right. And the effort is enough as long as it continues. The pursuit of learning, the passion for it, the desperate want to be taught, must not change. To grow out of that is the death of childlike wonder on a tragic scale.
That is what learning is anyway. It is looking at everything and listening before speaking. If you have to look at it as, “what gem can I get out of this conversation that will improve my mind and my heart most?” then go for it. (I only recommend that to start practicing because that’s really just swinging the pendulum over from veiled pride to selfish greed.) Childlike wonder is much better. The assumption, by default, that there is so much that you do not yet know. And that you are invited to sit at the feet of someone who does.
It is healthy for us to grow. And healthy to sit and be taught. The very act of learning and understanding what we didn’t before is a soothing rain to the pride-parched surfaces of our souls. We don’t realize how dry it was and how desperate we needed to learn until you get a taste of something new.
The pressure goes away then. It is no longer flimsy cards we build our houses with, and we no longer sweat as we secretly fear that getting it wrong will bring the whole thing tumbling down. To know that we have been entrusted with an unknown number of days by The Teacher, frees us immensely. We’ve been entrusted with our siblings, our parents, our friends, and honestly, it’s much bigger of a risk for Him to give those to us than it is for us to give them back to Him. There is no mess He cannot fix, and if we are desperately trying to please Him, and follow where He (the Truth) is leading, He remains delighted in our attempts rather than waiting with a red pen to circle all the punctuation marks we got wrong. The pressure is off. He’s already walking, and we just have to follow along and let Him teach us.
We no longer have to pretend to ourselves that we were “right” in order to save our fragile self-esteem. We can instead jump for joy that what was once so confusing and muddled and surrounded by something fake, is now clearer and brighter and surrounded by something real.
I’d much rather be seen as getting it wrong every once in a while, because that means He will get the glory when I finally discover and exclaim what was right. If I’m pretending I knew it all along, I’m stealing the spotlight a bit (a lot).
That doesn’t mean I want to purposefully get it wrong, because that wouldn’t be pleasing to Him. It just means I want to try with all of my real self. No pretenses. I want to stand there and say, “This is what I believe will make you smile.” And if it’s right, He will. And if it’s wrong, I still think He is delighted that a smile from Him is my goal. And when correction and teaching comes, it’s not catastrophic in the slightest, because He’s the one who has it all right, and He’s the one who holds the world together. And He wanted to reveal to me a little bit more of Himself and what pleases Him. How can being taught by The Greatest Teacher be anything but an honor?
Now here’s the thing. Sometimes He teaches us through other people who have been sitting as His feet too. But if we don’t listen to those people, He will resort to sending the message through a messenger who will challenge our pride even more. Someone younger than us maybe, or someone with more obvious issues than us, or someone who’s been mean to us in the past, or someone who hasn’t been showing us the amount of respect we want from them.
We must learn to treasure the Truth so much that no messenger, no conduit, no method of getting it to our ears, can convince us to disqualify or ignore it.
All good and all Truth comes from Him. It’s not a contest between humans to see who’s got it right and who doesn’t. We’ve ALL gotten it wrong. So any truth that comes out of the mouths of anyone has come first from the essence of God. There might be some humanity mixed in or wrapped around the delivery, but the essence could still be there.
We must maintain our childlike wonder, the way a toddler plays a game hide and seek with their parent. Searching with wide eyes for traces of the one we love in every nook and out-of-the-way space. In every word. In every story. In every action. Even the ones we don’t think it’s possible He’s squished himself behind.
We are meant to follow Him. And when we spot Him we jump and wave our hands and say, “Over here, over here! I already checked the closet under the stairs and He wasn’t there, but I’ve just seen Him over by the curtains!”
I want to look back on the past year, the past month, or however long, and say that I spotted Him again and again in places I never expected to find Him. I don’t want to say, “Well I thought I saw Him under the table 5 years ago, so I stopped looking and I’m still here.”
If someone asked me what I’ve learned, how I’ve changed, what growth has happened, over any length of time, I want to have an answer. I want to have completely different problems. Completely different levels of triumph. Completely different perspectives. If I looked like a weed three years ago, I definitely want to look like a baby tree this year.
If I’m still looking like the same old weed years later, I think the tree would actually be dying.
Today I encourage you to look back on the last month, or last year, or whatever length of time you decide, and write down what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown.
- It can be as simple as learning to change a tire or how to file your taxes.
- Maybe you’ve finally memorized the route from Asheville to Atlanta without your GPS.
- Maybe someone’s taught you how to make the perfect melt-in-your-mouth banana bread or that you can finally make bacon-wrapped chicken appetizers without looking at the recipe (um yes, it took me ages).
- It could be that you’ve invited someone to speak honestly into your life and they’ve answered some of your questions with stories of their own. Maybe they’ve pointed out a blind spot of yours that you’ve never realized you had. Or maybe they’ve pointed out an area you are gifted in that you never considered that way before.
- It could be that you’ve learned a new skill or language.
- Maybe you’ve faced a fear of yours and found that it wasn’t as earth-shatteringly awful as you thought it would be, and you’ve grown out of that fear now.
- It could be that you’ve learned what NOT to do or say in certain scenarios, which is just as important as learning what TO say and do.
- It could be a complete 180 in a line of thinking. Or just a 2-degree adjustment that’s meant a world of difference.
- It could be things that God himself has revealed to you about His character or about yours. Maybe the Holy Spirit has challenged you in certain areas recently by pointing out words like Peace or Joy or Contentment or Patience or Holiness and you’ve been exploring new depths of what those could mean in your life. Or maybe you felt His delight in you and all your quirks in a way you’ve never felt from Him before.
If by any chance, you can’t think of ways that you’ve grown and changed and learned in recent years, by all means, please start. You don’t know it all yet, and I hate to break this to you, but you never will. That’s way too much pressure. There are people who are trustworthy. There are people who live out an example that is worth following. They ARE going to be flawed, but you are too. There are people who want to help, who aren’t interested in making anyone feel bad for asking for it.
Here are a few places to start:
Look at the people you admire and respect. (If you can’t think of any, I recommend having a conversation with God about that.)
Look for someone who seems to being doing great in an area you aren’t. Ask questions. People light up when you notice what they do well and you ask them how they got there. There’s usually a very good story and a fair amount of wisdom. Savor the meat, and throw away the bones.
And tell them when they’ve taught you something. I think we all have this fear of admitting “You were right” because we are afraid they will smile all smugly and say, “See? Isn’t it easier now that you’ve done it my way? Now that you’ve listened to me?” And sometimes that fear is warranted. Some people will and do say that, and no one, no one, wants those lines thrown into their faces. But here’s the thing: We need to deal with it. That’s a flaw on their end, not ours. We’ve done the right thing in admitting to them they were right. Their ugly response is teaching us a bonus lesson called, What Not To Say When Someone Lets You Teach Them.
Because the time will come when you have things to teach others, and if your heart is in the right place, you are more excited about helping them than about any recognition for the help. And if they come back to you and say, “You were right about that! It is so much better now that I did what you said!” How would you want someone to respond if you were the one saying that? You would celebrate with them and say, “I’m so glad!” rather than throwing in a “See? Why didn’t you ask me/listen to me sooner?” One shows the mutual value each of them has for the other, and one shows the defensiveness and insecurity of both people.
You’re not handing over superiority when you admit to someone that they “were right.” You’re just telling them that they really helped you and that you’re grateful. Hopefully, when the tables turn, they can tell you how grateful they are for your help and you can celebrate with them too.
Hold onto the things you wonder about. Wonder is where it all starts.
You can also turn the volume down on your own opinions and turn the volume up on other people.
Believe it or not (and this is something I learned not that long ago), most of the time if people want your advice or your viewpoint on things, they will ask you. If they don’t, it is perfectly okay to just sit there and listen to them talk and then just think it over. Revolutionary, right?
For a while, when people spoke about what they’ve thought, I was quick to jump in and say, “That’s interesting! But I’ve always thought about it this way instead…” And bam, I’ve flipped the conversation over to being all about me and what I think and what I’ve experienced, rather than taking the time to ask them about what they said and why they said it.
I wish I could say I never do this now, but I definitely still do. It’s a work in progress.
“It’s not about me.” Say it to yourself ten thousand times a day if you have to.
It’s not about me. It’s not about me.
What parts of what they shared have you found to be true (or false)? What did it reveal about who they are and what they value? How does it help you to know them and serve them better? Think it over.
If you don’t know where to start learning/growing, I guarantee you that the people who are around you every day could give you plenty of pointers.
My sister recently pointed out that I’m good with restraining myself when it comes to telling someone, “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” with my words, but she said that oftentimes I say it just as loudly with my face.
Yikes. I’m working on that now.
And, if you can’t tell, I’m learning about being more teachable in all scenarios. I told God that I’m okay with Him teaching me however He deems fit, and to be honest, some of it has been not-so-bad, and other bits I’ve gone kicking and screaming against. It doesn’t surprise me at all either. Because there is still this part of me on the inside that is so terrified of getting it wrong. Not because it would displease Him, but because I’m depending on my own strength and my own mind a bit too much and I care that people think I’m doing it right.
I recently started a new job and I have been training for over a week now. There are so many things I don’t know how to do, and so many questions from people that I don’t know how to answer.
It is humbling. But that is good. I have to tell myself this. It’s how I was designed. To learn, learn, learn. And then to stake flags in the ground where I’ve learned and grown so that anyone walking a few paces behind might have an easier time of it when they get there.
It is humbling. But that is good.
This is the second part of two I Am Still Learning posts. If you missed part one, check it out here: “Sponge Talk (I Am Still Learning – Part One).”