Case in point – I’m always leaving drawers or cabinets open after I get out a fork, or a spatula, or a mug, or a plate. It’s just that I think to myself…okay, I want cereal, so I fling open a pantry door and grab a bowl. But before even thinking to myself I should close that door, I have moved on to pulling open a drawer to grab a spoon. And before pushing in that drawer, I have moved onto grabbing the box of Special K Red Berries or Kashi Oat Flakes with Blueberry Clusters or Multigrain Cheerios (the three breakfast staples perpetually present in my home…soooooo yummy!!!!). And then I grab the milk from the refrigerator. So then my bride comes downstairs, and I’m enjoying my cereal in my recliner, but the kitchen looks messy because we’ve got two cabinet doors and one drawer wide open – and she has to come along and shut everything behind me. Which has got to be annoying after a while. It’s like, I’m a kid she needs to pick up after. ARGH. Thankfully, I always remember to close the fridge. Okay, I’ll be honest, the refrigerator door sort of closes on its own (whew!).
I’ve been thinking recently about learning the lessons that God wants to teach me. He’s always showing me something, and He’s always super patient with me – maybe even too patient (please don’t change, God, I just get stupid sometimes!). But it just takes me a while to really, truly “get” it and apply it to my life. And, apply it to my life not just once, but always. And sometimes, I do get it, but then it escapes me. Like those squishy and slippery water wiggler toys from my childhood. I can never really hold onto it, and I never really make it my “own.” It doesn’t get fully internalized. I apply it perhaps once, but then I lose it and – unfortunately (or fortunately, I guess) God has to show it to me again. And I’m great with Him being loving and patient and gently bringing around another teachable moment for me. But I wonder if the extent of my Christian life, then, is a series of fits and starts…a sputtering along, if you will…instead of really moving from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18)…and walking in the growth and maturity I know is there for me.
I fully believe I am set apart, and I fully believe that as the sons and daughters of God we can walk victoriously every day. And the years are going by and yes, I am making progress, and yes, I want to be incredibly gracious with myself, and content with the pace of the journey I am on…but I also want to be growth-minded. I don’t want to settle, especially when I know He lives in me and equips me to mount up with wings as eagles (Isaiah 40:31). And I want to dine on meat, and not just drink milk (Hebrews 5:12, 1 Corinthians 3:2). And I want Him to consider me as His friend, like he did Moses (Exodus 33:11) and Abraham (2 Chronicles 20:7), and a man after His own heart, like David (1 Samuel 13:14). That is what I aspire to.
And I believe that is there for all of us, if we can just learn the lessons the first time. Or the second time. Instead of the fifth or tenth or twentieth time. That way, we can move upward and onward to the next thing He wants to teach us, and rise up to steward the next thing He wants to entrust us with, instead of just floundering about or spinning in circles. I want to look back on my life and see a steady, continual, and clearly measurable trajectory of growth. And, I really believe that this better positions me for SO MUCH MORE that He has for me…that He has for His children…if we can “get” these lessons much earlier. And I just feel like this requires three things: 1) slowing down 2) presence and 3) intentionality.
If I could just stop moving so fast, and be more “in the moment”, and purposefully apply what I know to do when I am making a bowl of cereal, I’d pause after every step (slowing down!), feel the fullness of every moment (presence!), consider exactly what I need to do (intentionality!), and the kitchen would look great and put together before I settle into my recliner and with my breakfast. And I know this sounds laborious, but it’s only a few microseconds of responsibly thinking through my actions. Microseconds. I’ve just built a bad habit, and need to relearn a new one. And keep doing it until it sticks.
How does this apply to lessons God wants to teach me? So, for as long as I’ve been a Christian, I’ve been going to church, and the Pastor has tried to teach me something. Every week, he’s sought to do that. And apart from that, I’ve been reading books – on servant leadership, on emotional stability, on romantic relationships, on healthy boundaries, on pretty much everything. And I’ve been listening to podcasts (primarily sermons). For years.
Not only that, but I’ve also gone to hear motivational speeches from men and women I respect and admire. I’ve read biographies and watched inspirational documentaries. I’ve soaked in numerous TED Talks. I’ve devoured tons of lists that pop up on in my Facebook news feed (The 5 Easiest Ways to Save Time, 8 Style Strategies for Advancing Your Career, 17 Things Every Man Should Try, etc. etc., ad nauseam).
And I’ve done all of these things with the genuine, unadulterated desire to grow. To be better. To live better. To honor God more. But what I have found is that I am long on information, but short on application. The vast, vast majority of things I’ve wanted to learn and sought out to learn, and situated myself to learn, I haven’t actually made my own. I just haven’t. I haven’t fully internalized them, lived them out, made them a habit, and made them who I am. Perhaps I thought I had “got” it, and then quickly moved onto the next thing, which I then thought I “got,” freeing me up to move to the next thing. All the while, comparatively little was actually sinking in.
This is a crushing realization. Really. And yes, it’s easy to dismiss, and rationalize away, and not be so hard on ourselves. But this is what are bent to do all our lives…to just keep moving on to the next thing. And it’s so much surface, and so little depth. I don’t want to live that way anymore. I’ve spent decades doing so. DECADES.
Forget all of those other sources of learning for a moment – let’s just talk about church. We go to church to hear the Word of God, and consequently to be equipped, empowered, and encouraged to live life well. And the message each Sunday is so palatable, and relatable. Heck, they even provide bullet points for me to write down to make sure I definitely “get” it. It could be on really, truly loving my neighbor (or boss, or in-law, or spouse) as I love myself. It could be on taming the tongue to keep a small relational spark from turning into a fire. It could be on taking control of my thought life to keep from descending into pity, self-hatred, shame, or sloth).
The bottom line is that if I’m going to church to hear truth and gain wisdom and receive counsel, I should 1) slow down 2) be present and 3) intentionally put those things into action in my life. Otherwise, seriously, why am I sitting in the pew in front of the pastor to learn again next week if I really didn’t “get” and “apply” what I learned last week? (This is not about the other benefits that church provides, like a community of believers to do life with, or an opportunity to serve – this is about learning lessons from God). We move through weeks and months and years like this. And the words we hear or read make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, and tickle our ears, and allow us to check off a mental “box” of sorts that we are doing what we think is the right thing to do, but are those words really effecting change in our lives? Are they really making a difference? Is my life and emotional state and relational environment actually, measurably better?
Please don’t feel condemned as I’m saying all this. I am really just preaching to myself. I do not want to keep living like this. At the end of my life, it would be so much better for me to have really learned, applied, habitualized, and borne meaningful fruit from five sermons, books, TED talks, and top ten lists than from 50, or 500, or 5000 (when it’s all said and done).
Dear Lord, please help me increasingly learn what you want to teach me the first time around, so I can experience so much more and so much greater of what You have for me. Let even the writing of this blog (or the reading of it by others) not just be words that stay on the surface, but that actually take root. I want this and I need this. Amen.
(I’ll update this blog with the struggles and successes of my attempt to live this out in a couple of months. Stay tuned.)