Hundreds of thousands of high school and college students around the United States have recently or will soon graduate. As they grab their mortar boards and throw them in the air, they are rejoicing that their time of schooling is finally over.
For the first eighteen or twenty-two years of our lives, depending upon whether or not we go to college, learning is our main “job.” The majority of our time is spent in classrooms, learning new materials. And once we graduate, many think this “learning stage” is over. It’s time to leave learning behind and to go out into the adult world.
I had similar thoughts when I graduated from college. Personally, I knew I would still be in a classroom, since my degree was in Early Childhood Education. But now, I was the teacher, and “they” (my two classes of five year olds) were the students. But a few days after the start of the school year, I saw the error in my reasoning. My children were learning – but so was I. Just finishing my formal education didn’t mean my learning was over. I simply needed to take more responsibility for my acquiring of knowledge from this point on.
This was before the Internet was available for the public, so most of my learning during my years of teaching was from books. This was also a season of making new friends, many of whom were fellow teachers, and I quickly learned that they were good sources of answers to many of my questions. I think my first year of teaching kindergarten was one of the most intense times of learning in my life.
In my second year of teaching, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Suddenly, there was a whole new body of material to learn. I sensed God calling me to turn in my resignation and enroll in Bible college. I did this, and there we learned the basic principles of the Christian faith and became familiar with the Word of God. But this one year of extended classroom learning was like sticking my toe in the vast pool of teaching found in the Bible.
While in Bible college, I met my future husband. We married at the end of the school year. With marriage, and nine months later having our first child, it didn’t take me long to realize I had many new things to learn. Throughout the last forty-three years, that has continued to be true. Life isn’t static. And with each new stage of life, we see new things we need to learn. Before long, I clearly saw that learning is for a lifetime.
- Center on the Word of God. We are called to be disciples, and to be a “disciple” means to be a learner. The main way Jesus teaches and leads us is through His Word. And His purpose in teaching us isn’t just so we’ll be familiar with the facts and principles. We need to learn about our teacher. We need to grow in our knowledge of Him and understand His character, so that we have a good foundation to build our faith upon. We need to know how to recognize His voice when we are reading or praying. And we need to learn how to apply the things He teaches us, even in situations where they may not seem logical.
- Learn new skills required for your ministry or occupation. I first learned this when I was teaching kindergarten. Even after four years of college, I was totally in the dark about many things: use of some of the equipment, what to teach the children in certain areas so that my classes wouldn’t miss out on some topics that the kindergarten classes in my school regularly taught, and how to handle ongoing discipline problems. Thankfully, I had experienced kindergarten teachers on both sides of my classroom, who took me under their wings and taught me some of these basics. This happened because I had a teachable spirit and was willing to reach out and ask for help.
- Don’t ignore practical learning for everyday life. As soon as you notice an area where increased knowledge is needed, find some sensible answers. This will vary for each person, but you will reach a point where you need to learn something new. For example, as a newly wed, I knew nothing about cooking Mexican food. I wanted to surprise my husband, and decided to add some jalapeño peppers (seeds and all) to a casserole I was making. He was definitely surprised! As soon as he took a bite, he quickly warned me not to eat it. The casserole was even hotter than he likes, but he ate some so he wouldn’t hurt my feeling. All my previous experience using peppers for cooking had been with bell peppers, and I had no idea how to cut up the jalapeños or how many needed to be added to the casserole. Wisdom would have been learning this before using them in a recipe. After the damage was done, the friend who gave us the jalapeños gave me some instructions on how to chop them – after removing the seeds – and how many to use in cooking.
- Learn about any other areas that are important for you or your family. For our family, one of the biggest areas we’ve needed to increase our knowledge is in the medical field. First, when our infant son was diagnosed with Massive Infantile Spasms, we needed to do some research to understand what to expect. And this was just the beginning. I quickly learned that I needed more information about our son’s growing list of problems, to be able to talk intelligently with his doctors. A few years later, I started going through the same process for myself, as one chronic illness after another was added to my medical history.
We are fortunate to live at a time when information about each of these areas, as well as many others, is easy to find. We can learn through personal conversations, reading books, taking classes, listening to recorded audio, and watching educational videos. And the Internet is seemingly an unending source of information.We can even use social media to continue our learning. But we need to have discernment concerning the sources we use. Is this “fact” really just someone’s opinion? Are these medical sources of information trustworthy? Use a variety of sources, and stay away from those that seem unreliable. But there are no excuses for not continuing to learn, until you go to be with the Lord. In fact, Henry Ford said continuing to learn is the key for staying young.