How many times have you been told to embrace a lifestyle or attitude of continuous learning? To develop a thirst for knowledge? Knowledge is perched high upon a pedestal and is the means to many noble ends. A modern-day snake oil, knowledge is seemingly a cure for all that ails us. It makes us interesting. It’s a key to career success and upward mobility. Knowledge is power. It’s the antidote to ignorance and the secret sauce to great conversations. With it – the world is our oyster. Without it…well I shudder to think.
The pursuit of knowledge even keeps us young. In the words of one great captain of industry, knowledge might be the very fountain of youth for which explorers have searched for ages.
Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. ― Henry Ford
Now in my 40’s I’m realizing learning was easier in my youth. Young minds are like sponges. Older minds – like rocks. Our schools and social systems were built to engage and train kids. Let’s face it, many kids go to school for at least 13 consecutive years (K-12) and have no choice but to learn. They do it day in and day out. The world is set up to guarantee our kids learn as much as possible.
As adults though we have to work at learning. We default to learning through things like:
- Reading books,
- Perusing magazines & newspapers,
- Visiting art galleries and museums,
- Taking eco-tours and adventure vacations,
- Picking up hobbies,
- Enrolling in community college courses, and
- Completing professional continuing educations classes
All this in the name of knowledge!
A few weeks ago Russell, a 15 1/2 year old young man, asked me to speak at his Eagle Scout Court of Honor event. For five years Russell had immersed himself in the scouting world and successfully completed all the requisite training to be called an Eagle! When I looked at Russell’s accomplishments over the preceding five years it was staggering the amount of time he’d spent learning new skills. Here was a young man who, at a very early age, had embraced the notion of continuous learning. In this short corridor of time, Russell had completed:
- 14 camping trips (totaling 25 nights in the great outdoors)
- 5 hiking trips (totaling over 37 miles of hiking)
- 33 merit badges (including rowing, swimming, first aid, tracking, signaling, carpentry, computers, shooting, fishing, horsemanship, personal fitness, emergency preparedness, camping, weather, geology, forestry, and cooking – to name a few).
- 20 service projects (totaling over 66 hours of service)
- 15 other events (including CPR classes, mock disaster training, fund-raisers and various leadership activities).
For my part in his Eagle ceremony, Russell asked me if I would say a few words about him. I was honored he’d selected me of all the men in his life. I approached this humbly seeking to share with the audience the wonderful things I knew about Russell. I’ve known him for over a decade, but I wanted to interview him prior to his big night to get a deeper glimpse into his head and heart. I knew Russell has accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior…but I was curious to see where Scouting and Faith sat in relation to each other in his young life. I’d hoped that by mining this vein I might unearth a gem of wisdom that nobody had seen. Not even Russell. Something I could polish up and share with the audience on his big night.
After talking with Russell for nearly an hour, I asked him to give me the bottom line. “Compare your experience with scouting…to your experience with your faith,” I asked him. In his answer I realized this young man had already discovered the gem. I was merely blessed to be both the recipient and the messenger of his wisdom.
Russell thought for a moment then replied, “Scouting is great – it was worth the sacrifice. But learning how to tie knots may only last me for 60 years. My relationship with God will last forever.”
That was it. Russell handed me a precious gem! This young man verbalized what so many of us wrestle with our whole lives. Culture touts the importance of continuous learning. Cultivating a thirst for knowledge. What culture doesn’t tell us is that some forms of knowledge trump others. Some things are like tying knots (job training, art galleries and the local news). Other things are more eternal (praying to our Creator, basking in the beauty of God’s creation, enjoying fellowship with other believers, and learning to live lives of consequence).
It’s not just our culture that places a premium on learning. The Bible also suggests that learning is vital. God’s Word says it’s essential to building a relationship with a living God. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul tells us,
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)
Culture has a way of subversively creeping into our lives and overtaking us. If not careful, we awaken to realize we’ve not only conformed to the pattern of the world but the pattern has corrupted us. We realize we haven’t been transformed at all because we haven’t actually renewed our mind. We’ve instead feasted on things that “may only last us 60 years.” We awaken to discover we’ve filled our minds with garbage, and it’s slowly rotting like vegetables in a compost pile. We’ve polluted the very mind God instructed us to renew.
I’m not suggesting we only ingest mental “Super Fuel.” I’m the first to believe a healthy diet includes an occasional episode of Duck Dynasty, a bowl of ice cream or a Twinkie (thanks for the comeback Twinkie). But at some point we have to stop and question the significance of what we’re learning. Are the things we’re filling our mind with of earthly or eternal significance? If the overwhelming majority of what we put into our mind is temporal…then HERE is all we have. We have no hope in the ETERNAL.
I wish I’d been friends with Russell 29 years ago when I was 15 1/2. I could have used a friend like him. If I knew then what I know now (thanks to Russell), maybe I’d have filled my head with more things eternal. Congratulations Russell! I’m proud of your great accomplishment. I’m also glad you agreed to meet with me so you could share with me your wisdom! For you…I’m eternally grateful.