There is a Joyce Rupp quote that litters many of my old journals and files, and over the past decade or so it has been a consistent source of encouragement and challenge to the way I look at my everyday life. When I was attempting to re-organize my office last week, after a summer of much travel with facilitator retreats and family trips, I found a small slip of paper in a file and I re-encountered Rupp’s words. She writes,
I used to keep my spiritual life in a tight space and felt that my work, my social life, my relational joys and struggles actually kept me away from God rather than teaching me and being sources of personal transformation for me. Now I see all of this differently. I have come to believe that every part of my life affects or influences my life with God. The world I live in, with its beauty and tragedy, with its creatures of all forms and shapes, is constantly offering me messages about who I am and who God is. Everything and everyone teaches me about God, life, and myself.
I try now to approach each person, event, creature, with two questions: How are you my teacher? What am I meant to learn?[i]
Rupp’s words remind me of how often I am tempted by a “non-learning” way of life, that is, I try to “get by” with what I already know. I hope that what I learned in the past will suffice for the journey ahead. So I shy away from the questions that shake my securities, duck the people who confront my certainties, and avoid the situations and challenges that might stretch me beyond my comfortabilities.
There is a tremendous cost to living life like this, a way of life that seeks to just “get by.” Such a mindset reflects a failure of understanding and courage; it is a refusal to learn. And as Archibald Macleish reminds us, “There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience.”
Jesus so often put it this way, “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!”(Matthew 13:43). It is like he is saying, “Pay attention. Listen and learn.” His way in the world continues to frustrate those of us who want to coast through our lives relying upon what we already know and understand. Once we have said, “Yes, I want to follow Jesus,” we had better buckle up because our way of seeing the world is going to be profoundly confronted. Jesus has much more to teach us about who he is and who we are and what reality is all about. All presumption and pretense must be left at the door. We must abandon a non-learning way of life if we are to “take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:19). This journey is for learners only.
So I would encourage you to add Rupp’s two questions to your regular reflection on the experiences and encounters and struggles of your day and week: How are you my teacher? What am I meant to learn?
May God’s Spirit surprise you amidst the everydayness of your life.
[i] The Cup of Life: A Guide for Spiritual Growth (Ave Maria Press, 1997), 36.