Thursday, December 18, 2014

Learning Experiences

It’s sometimes said that experience is the best teacher. Some lessons learned through experiences can’t be grasped in any other way. That’s probably why so many parents find themselves on the verge of panic when their teenagers take their first solo drives. Even if you have complete confidence in them, there’s no way to prepare them for the unexpected. Only experience can do that.

In gaining experience,
remember - there will be a test.
One of the problems with having Mr. Experience as a primary teacher, however, is it includes so many tests in the curriculum. In fact, there’s rarely time to “study” for these tests – they present themselves as “pop quizzes.”

I remember the time when I was a wet-behind-the-ears college freshman, driving to school after being initiated into the local fraternity. I was wearing the required freshman “beanie” (orange and blue, if you need to know) and baby bib bearing the fraternity’s name, all part of a very tame hazing tradition. What I was thinking about I can’t recall – maybe the girl who would be sitting next to me in English class – but just ahead of me a car suddenly slowed dramatically.

An earlier accident had left a flooded street from a broken fire hydrant. Too late I noticed how rapidly my car was closing in on the other vehicle. I slammed on the brakes, but too late. I learned a quick lesson in hydroplaning and a moment later the hood of my car crumpled upward as it collided with the trunk of the auto in front of it. A practical but costly lesson in the principle of physics that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

Thankfully no one was injured, other than my self-esteem. My embarrassment was magnified by the foolish-looking beanie and bib I was wearing for the occasion. I had flunked the test that experience had presented, but did learn an important lesson: “When driving, pay attention, dumb college student!”

No one hops on a bicycle for the first time and remains upright, perfectly balanced. There’s the wobbling as you cling to the handlebars, at least a few flops, and some tentative pedaling until you get the hang of it.  With experience though, you get better at it. At least most people do.

The first time I attempted public speaking I was a nervous wreck. Over time, and with experience, I found myself still nervous before speaking, but didn’t make the fool of myself that I feared. (At least that’s my opinion. Members of my audiences might beg to differ.)

But it’s the tests involved in the experience process that stand out. Often they’re difficult, and we might fail, but experience serves to help us in doing better the next time. This reality applies to newlyweds, suddenly discovering married life isn’t the piece of cake it seemed to be at the wedding. Similarly, first-time parents, no matter how enraptured they are by their new addition, find having a baby isn’t always the cute, cuddly experience they had imagined it would be. They, and infant, are learning on the fly.

Maybe that’s why we’re advised in James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and compete, not lacking anything.”

Expanding on this idea later in the chapter it says, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under the trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

The experiences of everyday life – along with the tests that accompany them – are often difficult, even painful. But they can be tools God uses to shape us into the people He intends for us to be. The fires of adversity typically are not anything we’d have sought for ourselves, or for our loved ones. But through these tests and the experience of persevering through them we become better, stronger, and hopefully more faithful people. For that we can truly say, “Thank you, Teacher.”

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