What and Why Are You Learning?

Do you ever find that some questions people ask you cause you to dive deeper for the answers? It has been good to reflect on questions I have been asked about why I chose to enter and continue in graduate school while in my late sixties. So, as I think through my answers, it helps me once again to reflect on important questions about why I choose to do what I do. We can find it all too easy to just do, without reflecting clearly on why we do what we do or think what we think.

Why did you decide now, to go back to school?

Longing to continually grow deeper in my walk with God and service to others, I entered seminary in 2018, when I was sixty-four years old. I was drawn to the study of spiritual formation, deeply believing that too many Christians go through motions of religion while lacking the depth and joy flowing from intimacy with God. They long for more. I longed for more. I desired to learn further ways to grow toward the image of Christ and delight in our relationship. I love to learn, and though I had read and studied my Bible for decades, I thrilled to the deeper teachings I learned through my biblical studies classes. I savored and put into practice what I learned in my spiritual formation studies.

God answered many prayers encouraging me to pursue this venture. During my studies, I was working in the ministry and providing care for my wonderful husband, who passed from a progressive neurological disease called Multiple System Atrophy in November 2019. It was an extremely difficult time. My studies, combined with daily life and suffering, not only drew me into a more intimate relationship with God but also put on my heart a desire to keep learning. I thrive best when learning new things.

I believe I am called to teach. It feels good to know my calling…. what I feel uniquely qualified for and what makes my heart sing. For over forty years, as a women’s minister, I have taught the Bible to those wishing to develop faith or to grow in their faith, helping them apply biblical teachings and principles to their daily lives. I have taught workshops in areas of spiritual growth to audiences large and small, in-person and online. I also love to teach through writing. After my first book, I thought I was done with writing, but fifteen books later, God keeps putting more on my heart.

As an older woman who has experienced many transitions in life including a loving marriage of forty-five years to caretaking and then widowhood, raising children and now enjoying adult relationships with them, grandparenting eight grandchildren, adopting a teenager from Eastern Europe, changing jobs, moving, losing parents, being held at knife-point, and being struck by lightning, my experiences are many and allow me to relate to various ages and backgrounds. At this stage of my life, I still desire to help change the world for Christ through teaching, mentoring, and writing in various settings and places. I long to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God…but I still have so much to learn. I want to see more and more women learning and teaching, as they offer such a valuable perspective.

God answered so many specific prayers as I sought His guidance about this decision to go back to school. I want to keep on learning and then do some adjunct teaching when I finish my doctorate. I’ll be about seventy years young then.

Why did you choose to study spiritual formation? What is it? How did you benefit and how can what you have learned benefit others?

Spiritual formation is the process of God working in our lives to transform us into His image. We make ourselves ready and available through spiritual disciplines for God to transform us. We learn to find spiritual rhythms of life so that we can be still enough with God and hear him. We build intimacy with Him that refreshes, directs, and fills us in every way. We can often let busyness, ego, and the noise of life keep us from truly walking with God and finding rest for our souls. Spiritual formation is holistic. We let God transform us day by day through our love for Him and our unity with His Spirit. He changes us with ever-increasing glory through our thoughts and emotions, our relationships, our intellect, our life calling, our physical health, and our stewardship. That covers a lot of areas…our whole beings.

As I keep learning, I desire to offer workshops, teaching, training, and writing that encourages others to bring these areas to Jesus, letting Him transform them all. While I have learned some excellent tools and ways of thinking, I believe these are only useful if they help me and others draw closer to God for the sake of others.

 Have you enjoyed it?  Immensely. As I learn, write, and teach I feel the pleasure of God. I thrill to learn, to be closer to God, and to serve others more effectively. I have been blessed with outstanding professors, and even though I study online, my partnerships with fellow students have led to some wonderful new friendships. As I sat by Wyndham’s side during this time I have been in school, and since he could not talk I would tell him things I was learning and read him my papers, which he enjoyed. He was proud of me for this endeavor, which means so much to me. His encouragement spurred me on, and my studies during the hardest season of my life were strangely, a sort of lifeline for me.

 If you could summarize, what are the main things you took away?

It’s good to reflect on this question. The rate of learning is so fast that at times I felt like I was drinking from this.   I realize that as I learn, I must stop to reflect and apply what I am learning to my life, otherwise it is of little value. I also realize that knowledge is helpful, but only if it makes me more Christlike, more loving.  I definitely learned how much I don’t know and how judgmental I have been. The windows of my perspective are clearer, and I have let go of the fear of questioning. The Bible can stand up to questions. I am much more equipped to know and share my core biblical and life convictions and have also better learned the thought processes of those who share some differing core convictions. I have learned from so many people, and strive to treat them with respect and personal vulnerability. I have built some solid friendships with a few classmates and a professor who has enriched me. I have read more books than I can count, and have grown from each one. Next time, I’ll begin sharing some takeaways from each class. I pray that we are all forever learners.

 

Show Me

I’m a visual learner.  You can tell me something, and I may or may not remember or understand it.  For instance, as a young teen (or preteen- can’t remember as that was a long time ago) I volunteered in a hospital as a candy-striper.  I thought I might enter the medical profession one day and so I wanted to get some “hands on” experience.  On my first day of candy-striping I was given an assignment (not so technically medical) – to fill up all the water pitchers (with ice) for the patients in a particular wing.  I don’t know why, but I remember that most all of the patients were men.  I was busy about my task, nearly finished, when one of the men chuckled…looked at me and said, “This gives new meaning to “peeing on the rocks”.  I had filled up all of the urinals with ice water!  I decided that day the medical profession was not for me.  I certainly missed something between instruction and implementation. I obviously needed someone to show me what to do.

I recently returned from a conference in Budapest, Hungary.  As I travel I am often struck at how much clearer life seems from the view 35,000 feet above the earth.  As I look down from a plane everything looks so neat, orderly and simple. Yet I know that in reality confusion, bitterness and loneliness reign within individuals down below.  While God’s word is very clear, I am moved to know that God’s heart was grieved when he looked down and saw evil and the resulting pain in the world. (Genesis 6:6)    The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.

I am so grateful that I have a compassionate God who came down here to show me how to live. As He continually intervened in hearts and lives and worked through people and circumstances I wonder what conversations may have gone on between God and his son – what was said as they prepared for Jesus to come down and show us how to live.  I am so thankful that God didn’t look down with mere disgust and anger (which he certainly could have)….but instead looked with such love that he sent his beloved son to show us the way we were created to live.  He would not only show us how but would also enable us to break free from the power of sin and resulting separation from our Father.

(Luke 7:16)    They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”

He had already communicated clearly, but he went beyond words.   He came to help.  He showed us how.

(John 1:14)  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

He didn’t have to – but He cared that much.  Thank you, Jesus, for showing me how to love, how to forgive, how to relate to others, how to communicate, how to have purpose and how to think.

(1 John 4:9)  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

If I didn’t have Jesus showing me how to live real life every day I would be lost – and running around “filling urinals” while people around me are thirsting for water.