I learned some things this year. By “learned” I don’t mean nailed down and boxed up, as though a twenty-seven year-old could learn wisdom with finality. I mean that I saw and experienced and observed these things as meaningful in one way or another. Some were fresh lessons, though most were simply the natural ripening of wisdom through experience. Some were blessings poured out on my head, while others felt more like punches to the gut. Some were reminders, confirmations, deepenings; others seemed to be inaugurations, launchings into new responsibilities and relatively new views of life. Some are life-altering experiences and paradigm-shaping ideas, some simply nudged me in the right direction, and still others were simply lessons that give an earthy joy to life. But for each one, I am grateful. I write them for the benefit of my own personal reflection, and perhaps, if God chooses one or two to strike a chord, for yours.
Though these lessons may seem general, each flows from a significant experience or a memorable undertaking or a striking conversation. Underneath the general statements lie precise memories. They are not themed or categorized, because my experiences were not themed or categorized. So here, somewhat chronologically, are some things I learned in 2008.
I learned that you don’t study for the major tests in life. They just arrive unannounced, and you realize that you were (supposed to be) preparing all along. So if you only study and train because you have scheduled tests approaching, you will be hopelessly unprepared for the unscheduled (and usually much more significant) tests in life.
I learned that the best way to really find out who you are and what you know is to be challenged, because tests and trials (like Ph.D. interviews and pastoral candidating!) bring out the hard proof, for better or for worse.
I learned that it is actually very possible that I could go for years and years without growing in significant areas of spiritual maturity that I know are vital and that I have often aimed to improve.
I learned that you will never be a man of prayer unless you relentlessly and ruthlessly choose to be one.
I learned that public Christian figures about whom nasty things are said can actually be very godly, biblical, insightful, and instructive people, and can sometimes be just what we need.
I learned that young men can respond surprisingly well to hard news.
I learned that the New Testament authors sincerely believed and explicitly taught that the early church was living in the “last days.” And that was 2,000 years ago.
I learned that I hate talking about money when discussing a potential job.
I learned that when it comes to earthly adoption, it is not that I have a heart for orphans and God has the resources for adoption and the two come together, but that God provides the resources for adoption because he has a heart for orphans. As Cindi often says, “God loves his orphans.”
I learned that many of my friends are astonishingly generous.
I learned that time is a healer, but not without scars.
I learned that church controversies and relational splits have a way of haunting people.
I learned that there is truly no other joy on earth like the mutual delight between a father and a son.
I learned that it can be surprisingly, agonizingly, shamefully hard to forgive.
I learned that self-perceived reputation tends to make you lazy, especially if you’re a man-fearer, because the goal of a man-fearer is a good reputation, and once you’ve achieved that, your only responsibility is maintenance.
I learned that reading the same Bible version for several decades has a wonderful mnemonic power, and that switching Bible versions is hard.
I learned that I am unbelievably rich in relationships, and that this kind of wealth outvalues almost every other kind.
I learned that most of what we learn, we learn by imitation, and that to be imitated is a thrilling and horrifying responsibility.
I learned that at the beginning of something, setting a tone is important.
I learned that you shouldn’t always say “Yes” just because someone asks, and that saying “Yes” is not inherently virtuous.
I learned that Solomon actually wrote, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Prov 3:6).
I learned that the question “Why?” is a very precious question, and that the opportunity to answer this question is one of the greatest responsibilities in the world.
I learned that many younger men sincerely want mentoring and direction, and that many older men are absent when it comes to giving it.
I learned that experiencing is different than anticipating.
I learned that it’s possible to de-mature very quickly.
I learned that there’s such a thing as momentum in spirituality. Once you lose it, it can be hard to get back.
I learned that almost no Christians have ever heard a lengthy, detailed re-telling of the story of the Bible in one sitting.
I learned that the up-and-coming generation tends to loathe systems, structures, programs, and organization, often without knowing exactly why.
I learned that it’s possible to work a lot without getting much done.
I learned that, in parenting, looking forward to the future often means missing (and devaluing) the present.
I learned that the academy has an ironic way of eradicating the best type of academic hunger, not by satisfaction but by force-feeding.
I learned that complacency is encouraged by a challenge-free life.
I learned that it is far easier to be negative than to be positive.
I learned that there’s nothing quite like having a mechanic you trust.
I learned that when you hide your worst sins and secrets from everyone, you are choosing a form of isolation, and a nagging sense of personal fakery and relational distance.
I learned that the fact that Christians are a “new creation” is a really, really, really big and exciting thing.
I learned that it is far easier to put my trust in riches than I realized, and far more foolish than I realized.
I learned that with the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, a new age dawned. And I learned that my Sunday church gathering is a celebration of this dawning. This changes Sundays.
I learned that those who ask the hard questions often feel forced to choose between being a jaded, reactionary, stone-throwing skeptic and a carefree, thoughtless, tradition-laden party-liner. And I learned that there’s a middle ground that is as worth finding as it is difficult to find.
I learned that one way to suffocate an eager mind and squelch an active imagination is to read no stories.
I learned that three things keep me sane: children, laughter, and going outside.
I learned that America is fragile.
I learned that putting things off only makes them harder, and that actually doing hard things is often easier than you expect.
I learned that I am likely to be thrown in jail in the next decade for something I believe.
I learned that for all the talk about the maze of postmodern thought, the spiritual unreachability of the twenty-first century Westerner, and the high priority on cultural savvy, character and kindness are still very powerful.
I learned that personal conversations and phone calls are infinitely better than emails and letters when dealing with controversy.
I learned that simplicity is often incomplete, and that complexity is often unnecessary.
I learned that stowing away your gifts and talents for later use can make you miserable.
I learned that the best way to learn is to do.
I learned that half the people who schedule an appointment to view an apartment don’t show up even close to on time.
I learned that most young men respond very well when spoken to directly, sincerely, and adultly, even when you’re telling them things they’d rather not hear.
I learned that it’s possible to be addicted to religion (David Powlison).
I learned that small tasks tend to have a sucking effect on your time.
I learned that no matter how old you get, it still takes discipline to do the harder task first.
I learned that, often, the more truth we have, the less we appreciate it (and the less closely we listen to it and study it).
I learned that there are few things more discouraging to a teacher than droopy bodies, flat faces, and distant eyes. And I learned that the best teachers view this as a hill to charge instead of a white flag to wave.
I learned that I don’t get to choose all of my battles. I am responsible to fight the fights that God puts in front of me.
I learned that the search for contentment never ends, because contentment was never meant to be a search.
I learned that I cannot prove the things that I would most like to be able to prove.
I learned that a faithful wife smooths a hard road.
I learned that God is more patient with me than I knew.
I learned that the ancient gospel is still fresh, alive, and precious beyond all description.