When I was a kid I opened a wood-burning furnace and got blasted by a rush of heat unlike anything I’d ever felt. For a second, I was pretty sure I’d burned my face off (I was okay, but my eyebrows took a few weeks to recover).
The lesson in that experience was immediate and clear. When you open a furnace, stand to the side, like you’re holding the door for someone at a store. The fire will leap forward because of all the new oxygen, so don’t stand in front of the opening. Got it?
I am confident I will never make that mistake again. I learned from it.
Life has many lessons like this, where the learning is simple and straight-forward. Do this. Don’t do that. Easy. Done.
But sometimes the lessons are not so clear, not so simple.
Some things you can’t learn from, at least not yet. You have to learn toward them.
Because you don’t yet understand whatever the lesson is supposed to be.
You say or do something and things go badly, but you’re not sure what you should have said or done instead.
You have a conflict with someone, and you don’t know how you got into it or how to resolve it.
You witness a group of people who are different from you, struggling with something or expressing anger about something, and you think to yourself, I don’t understand what’s going on here. What’s their problem?
These are experiences you have to learn toward. The lessons are there, but you’ve got more work to do in the learning.
You have to get closer to the experience, the person, the community, and pay attention to what’s going on. Embrace the fact that you need to know more than you presently know. Resist the urge to simplify everything to a ‘bottom line’ explanation that can be folded up and filed away.
Listen more than you speak. Discard assumptions and judgment. Ask questions, and accept discomfort if the answers are not what you’d wish them to be.
This is hard work, and we don’t always do it right. But not everything we need to comprehend is easy and quick.
Some of the lessons we most need to learn can only be gained by taking uncertain steps, humbly and bravely, toward new understanding.
This post is a devotional from The Table, a Christian Church in Davenport, Iowa.
The Table is a community of Transformation:
from greed toward generosity
from violence toward peacemaking
from isolation toward neighborliness
from fear toward faith