It’s September and I feel excited. Ever since first grade, I’ve looked forward to September because that meant I could go back to school and learn something new. I’m a lifelong learner; the opportunity to learn something new still brings me joy. To find out this summer that one of my young grandchildren’s motivation for going back to school is (in his own words) “just for the joy of learning” delighted me greatly.
Not every child shares that joy, and not every adult has joyful memories of “going back to school.” In a conversation with my husband, I was reminded of that fact. When I said to him, “I always looked forward to the first day of school,” he said, “I always looked forward to the last day of school!”
Wherever you are on the spectrum of loving school to hating school, I hope that you will listen to my perspective and get excited about being a lifelong learner.
The opportunity to learn is not limited to going to school. I’m thankful for the teachers I’ve had and the degrees I’ve been able to earn; yet, I’ve learned many important lessons outside the walls of a school building. And I’ve learned many valuable things from people who have fewer degrees than I do.
What I’m really referring to when I speak about the joy of lifelong learning is the joy of obtaining wisdom. Wisdom is related to knowledge, yet, it’s not the same as knowledge. We need both knowledge and wisdom but knowledge without wisdom is useless.
- Knowledge refers to facts; wisdom refers to what we do with those facts.
If I know that the class I’m taking starts at 9 a. m. and along with that fact, I know that the driving time I need to get there is 45 minutes, but I get in my car at 8:45, what good to me are my facts?
- Knowledge is about our aptitudes; wisdom is about our attitudes.
If I have a genetic aptitude for mathematical and logical intelligence, making it easy for me to learn problem-solving skills but I refuse to put in the work that it takes to develop those skills, what good to me is my aptitude?
- Knowledge is something we acquire through such activities as going to school, reading books, and taking online courses; wisdom is free; it’s a gift from God.
If I spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars gaining knowledge but no time asking for the wisdom which God freely gives to all who desire it, how valuable is my education?
Becoming a lifelong learner is about humility and honesty—we must have a willingness to admit that we “don’t know” and a willingness to ask a “dumb” question. (In my opinion, there are no dumb questions.) God invites us to ask questions. “Call to me [he says] and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.” (Jeremiah 33:3 in the MSG)
Being a lifelong learner is about admitting to and learning from mistakes and doing so without embarrassment. Embarrassment about not knowing something is a form of unnecessary and unhelpful shame. To become emotionally and spiritually mature, we must learn to not accept it from others and to not give it to ourselves.
God never shames us for not knowing something. This promise is given to us:”If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it” (James 1:5 MSG).
In some ways, being a lifelong learner is about never growing up. It’s about retaining a childlike curiosity and finding delight in the discovery of simple things. It’s about seeing something familiar in a new way.
For what things do you want knowledge and wisdom this September? This is God’s promise to you: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 )