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The Power of Being a Learner

By Steve Gregg

This year for one of my Fathers Day presents, my daughter, Rosie,  gave me a session at the ceramics studio she is interning at this summer. We were able to spend a couple of hours “throwing” clay. No, that’s not actually throwing clay at each other but using a potter’s wheel to spin clay to make a bowl or a cup or whatever. I can say unreservedly it was one of the best Father’s Day presents I’ve ever had. Mainly because I was able to spend a couple of hours with Rosie, getting to peek into her world of ceramics that she loves so much. It was also good because it reminded me of the value and goodness of being a learner.

It was good to take on the stance of a learner because it was humbling.  It was good to have the chance to learn a new skill and to see how hard it is to do something that for someone else is so effortless. The teacher leading the session was a young man who is very gifted at ceramics and at throwing specifically. He was able to quickly and efficiently take a lump of clay and make an attractive cup or bowl in minutes. My first attempts at this seemingly simple task ended up with wobbly walls and a cup looking like it had melted in the sun. In the end, my cup became a small plate or spoon holder.  It was good to sit in a space and be reminded I had much to learn.

It was good to take on the stance of a learner because it forced me to listen. In so many settings, after 30 years of ministry, I am the one giving advice, adding my opinion or speaking from a position of experience. When I was in that pottery session, I had absolutely no expertise to add. It meant I needed to listen intently to the instructions and watch closely for subtle movements at every step. Each maneuver took very specific movements and applied pressure that made a tremendous difference in what the clay would do. I found myself focused on every word this young man said because it made such an immediate difference in whether or not I was successful. I found myself staring intensely to see if I could gauge how firmly or softly he was pressing and where each finger was on the clay as it spun. In that situation the only thing I could do was to try my best to soak up what was happening in front of me.

It was good to take on the stance of a learner because it refreshed in me the joy of making and creating. For years, one of my major creative outlets has been cooking. For me, the creative part comes into play by taking random ingredients we have on hand at our house and making an enjoyable meal out of seemingly nothing. Or, it comes by taking the time to learn a new recipe that the family will enjoy and want to add to our family repertoire of favorite meals. Because I have cooked for years though, it can be somewhat rote and routine. So it was very satisfying to step out of my routine and do something I have never done before, in this case, to take a lump of clay and end up with a tangible, albeit amatuer looking object. I found that taking on a new task reminded me of the joy of creating and making. I read not too long ago that one of the key ways we reflect the image of God is by being creative and makers. This certainly includes art but it also includes other tasks that involve taking elements, reworking them to make something new out of them.

As we come out of a difficult season, can I recommend to you the renewing power of being a learner again in some area of your life. While most of us have areas where we practice creativity, learning a new avenue for creativity can be wonderfully restorative and refreshing. That new thing can be a sport, a language, a musical instrument, a new type of cooking, or any number of other things. As you seek to reestablish your routines and disciplines, consider the discipline and benefits of being a learner. Whether or not you do, it’s important to remember the stances that learners use are helpful for us as Christ followers. Humility, attentiveness to others, reflecting our Father's nature in our everyday lives are key elements of Christian faithfulness and spiritual health.