This week, I was interviewing my jr. highers for a presentation on what teens are reading. When I asked them what they liked in a Bible study or devotional guide, they all said they needed to be challenged. My favorite quote from one of the girls was, “Teach me something I can’t figure out on my own.”
Then I realized something: I don’t say that very often, for two reasons. First, I’m not very teachable. Second, I like to figure everything out on my own.
This is a problem.
I wonder what would happen if I started asking this question in my life. What if, after I’ve written something (or even during the research process), I came to others and let them teach me something I can’t figure out on my own?
What if I approached all of my classes (even the ones I don’t like) asking the textbooks and the professors to teach me something I can’t figure out on my own?
What if, instead of applying my superior inductive Bible study skills to the text, I entered devotions asking God to teach me something I can’t figure out on my own?
I think I know what would happen. My inadequacy wouldn’t matter as much. I would stop having an inflated view of myself and my accomplishments. And I would probably learn a lot more.
Whenever I read quotes of philosophers saying deep things like, “The one who thinks he is wise is truly a fool, and he who is wise knows himself foolish,” I always thought they were just making up something that sounded cool to put on inspirational calendars with pictures of waterfalls. I didn’t believe it.
I mean, come on, deep down, a wise person knows he’s wise. Saying that he’s a fool when he’s obviously not is just fake modesty. “Oh, no. I’m nothing special. I just memorized the entire New Testament, solved the disappearance of the Roanoke colony, discovered a new element, and figured out how to make cafeteria food edible. It was nothing, really. Mere foolishness.”
But that’s not the point. The point is, we can’t learn very much on our own. Other people have gone before us, leaving a legacy of wisdom for us to draw from, and other people surround us now, giving us advice and examples to follow.
Wise people know that they’re foolish in the sense that their wisdom doesn’t come from themselves alone. They read books that others wrote, write with words and techniques passed down through the centuries, and sharpen their logic skills by discussing and debating. They depend on others to make them wise.
I’m apparently not very wise, even though I thought I was. If you’ve ever had that revelation, you know it’s a bit of a letdown. Especially because, apparently, my jr. highers know more about being teachable than I do.
It’s about humility, about wanting to learn more and admitting that you are not an expert on everything (or maybe anything). It’s about being willing to say, “Teach me something that I can’t figure out on my own” and then listening and learning.