“I am still learning.” --Michelangelo
There is nothing like the first time we do something new in this life, is there? Remember the first time your rode your bike without training wheels? It was a wobbly affair, maybe even a bit scary and no doubt you fell over a few times and maybe even got scraped up but finally you made it. Your Mom or Dad gave you one final push and a “YOU CAN DO IT!” and you did it! All because you dared to learn something new. To try something you’d never done before. To step out of your comfort zone and take a risk. To grow and become more than you were just a moment ago, all because you were willing, even eager, to learn. What do you still need to learn?
For there is learning, as in books and classes and lectures and tests and finally diplomas. We’ve just come through a graduation season which extolled this classroom model of education and learning: formal, prescribed, with a beginning, middle and end, an outcome which somehow pays off. In this learning mode, we learn because we have to, or because it is required or expected and that’s good. But then there is learning, as in a lifelong commitment to and curiosity about this God-given life and all we’ve yet to learn within it. Yet to try. Yet to do. What do you still need to learn?
Now well into my fiftieth year I faced that question in the days before my birthday last fall, my crossover into this strange new territory called mid-life. For what scared me then and now even more than the breakdown of my body (odd aches, tenacious wrinkles, hair where?) was a fear of spiritual ossification. Getting stuck in place now that I was officially “old”. Not learning anymore. Consciously and unconsciously settling in and in doing so losing a spark, the rush of learning something new.
And so facing into this middle age angst, I decided it was time for me to learn how to do something brand new, to accomplish something I had never, ever tried before. Something which stretched me, pushed me, and even scared me, in my case singing. Not just warbling in the shower when no one could hear me and not merely blasting away in the car to the radio, but belting out a tune right in front of other people, an actual audience. So I joined a local choir, hung out in the back bass section for awhile testing out my pipes and then one night when the call went out for solos, I raised my hand and said, “I’ll do it!”
What do you still need to learn? The gift of being created by our wondrous God is that this God has shaped us with a mind and a heart always able to learn, no matter what our age, no matter what the station or stage in life we find ourselves. Our bodies may creak but our spirits and our ability to learn: these never go away. I think of my seventy-something Mom who can surf the net with the best of them. An eighty-something grandmother parishioner who can out Facebook her teenage grandchildren. A biking buddy who just this year decided to take on the challenge of riding 200 miles in two days for charity. What they all share is a passion for perpetual learning, for seeing new things and opportunities in life and then diving right into them, feet first. As God declares in the Bible, “See, I am about to do a new thing. Do you not perceive it?”
And so a month ago on a Sunday afternoon in front of 150 folks at a local arts center, I stepped up to the microphone and then sang, all by myself! My heart raced. My limbs shook but I learned how to do it and then I did it. No doubt God has already planted within your heart something new which you still need to learn too. A craft you’ve always wanted to master. A subject you’ve always wanted to delve more deeply into. A personal fear you know it is time to confront and overcome. A sport you’ve always wished you’d learned. A musical instrument which beckons you to give it a try.
What do you still need to learn? It’s time to take off the training wheels and try something new.
You can do it!