I have been fortunate in my life to have some wonderful teachers. I had them in public school, at university and in my career. I have been reminded (and still need to be) from time to time to understand that education is a privilege. I know that we live in a society that believes that it is a basic human right. I see it as a privilege for me and a right for everyone else. See what that does to us? I also believe that education is necessary for us to survive as a society and that our current requirements for graduating high school is leaving our children woefully uninformed about where they are geographically, socially and civically.
This results in many people not knowing and not knowing they don't know. What is worse is not knowing while thinking that one knows. The first thing that a person needs to understand is how ignorant we all are, which should make us humble and open to listening. The other thing humility does is to make us better teachers. No one likes to feel like an idiot while being taught, whether it is calculus, welding, a foreign language or how to play checkers. Humility also opens us up to learning in unexpected ways and places.
I had a mentor once tell me that it takes at least five years for a person to get over their education. What he meant was that it takes about that long to get past technical knowledge and allow it to become part of who I am. This is true of anything that requires education from trades to philosophy professors. But whatever we learn or think we know will have a more difficult time if pride gets in the way. It inhibits the intake of information and poisons its outflow.
All of this holds true with our faith as well. Our faith begins with humility. The humility of knowing that we are ignorant. The humility of knowing that we are flawed. The humility of knowing that learning from God is not a right, it is a privilege. Or in better language, grace.
Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses, says, "The years of our life are threescore and ten or even by reason of strength fourscore ... So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." There is little that humbles us more than to think of our mortality. And there is little that motivates us to use that time wisely than to consider how little control we have over the number of our days.
What we learn is also important. A good education without a morally and socially balanced foundation can lead to serious trouble. Both the prophets Isaiah (2:3) and Micah (4:2) look for better days ahead when they say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." This implies that we learn together from God. Our spiritual life (even if we consider it private) directly affects our work life.
Andrew Murray (1828-1917), a South African pastor who wrote "With Christ in the School of Prayer," gives us this encouragement: "Blessed Lord Jesus! Once again I am coming to You. Every lesson You give me convinces me all the more deeply that I don't know how to pray properly. But every lesson also inspires me with the hope that You are going to teach me what prayer should be."
Not knowing how long we shall live, spending time learning with others, and constantly seeking how to better communicate with our creator orient our lives toward humility. Considering these things need not overwhelm us for long. Once we are comfortable with them, they will infuse every part of our lives. There are few things that are more freeing that understanding who we are and disciplining the mind and body with honesty and openness.
The French Abbott, Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), wrote, "There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love."
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.