The six year old is frustrated, his body tense. He wants to fill his water bottle before he leaves for school. He believes he knows the bottle doesn’t fit under a certain tap. His mother tells him it does. He whines, asks her to do it. Gently, oh so much more gently than I could muster, she tells him to try. “SEE,” he bellows as the tears well up in his eyes, “hahahah it does fit!” A lesson learned with laughter and surprise, no harm no foul. No sense of shame, no sense of unworthiness, just another moment of discovery for a six year old off to school where he is expected to learn things rather than know things.
How often we are expected to know things today. I use the word things purposefully because it doesn’t seem to matter what one’s job or education is most of us feel that we ought to know about virtually everything. The man who knows little about cars does his best to fake it. The woman pretending to know…whatever it is likely women are to pretend to know.
There are a few people in my life who are self-avowed experts on every topic form taxes and mortgages, to raising children, picking schools, running sports teams, making Olympic bids; to say nothing of how opiniated many church-goers are about how the church ought to be. I practice my patience when I listen.
Proverbs says, Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. That is a wonderful saying. The six year old is learning, he is open to discipline, to gaining knowledge about the world, many of us are no longer so open. I am, perhaps, chief among them, mid-thirties and already getting set in my ways. Still, I want to lead a godly live and thus I want to remain open.
I also want to help others in this manner and so I try to pay attention to where a question is percolating but not being asked. I try to make space for the “stupid question” that many people might be wondering by calling the question out. Part of being compassionate with one another is to offer this sort of acceptance, to expect everyone to be learning and on a journey rather than fully formed. It helps to recognize this truth about ourselves first.
This can be very hard. There is a meme on Facebook these days of people with various facial expressions and swear words beneath them and the tag line, when you go to Google to prove something and realize you are wrong. We dislike being wrong and there is something about trying to learn, to discover, that brings forward that same emotion. We need to learn to overrule that and to foster a kindness toward ourselves as we journey along in life.
One strategy I use is to foster curiosity. I like to try a new type of food, sport, of podcast, just to see how I react to it. Sometimes the outcome is bad, an experience I wish I hadn’t othered with, sometimes it is good. Either way I reject feeling stupid or silly or inadequate in some way just because I ventured something. Curiosity is something my children teach me.
Another strategy is willful humility. Doing something for the pure blessing and pleasure of doing it, regardless of if I can do it well. This doesn’t mean I don’t try or am lazy but rather that my self-worth and the worth of the activity is not based solely on the results. For instance the absolute best that can be said for my running is that I am consistent (one of my favorite sayings about a run is that it wasn’t far but it was slowJ).
As we age we come face to face with ever greater challenges, most of us can figure out how to fill a water bottle with ease. Even so, many of us cease learning, lose curiosity, and thus become our own ceiling. It is good and godly to recognize where we are in life and knowledge and to seek to move forward from that place.
What are your strategies?