“I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry,” says the Apostle Paul (Phil. 4:12). That pretty much sums up my educational secrets: Abundance and hunger. Fullness and need. Prosperity, humility. We stuff our minds with new facts and ideas, and still we know, there’s always more to learn.
A good story always tells a tale of character transformation. Sometimes, of course, it’s just about catching the bad guy or getting the girl. But even in those simple plots, the best fiction teaches a lesson, imparts a tidbit of wisdom, or demonstrates some measure of hopefully positive change.
“Change is the end result of all true learning.” –Leo Buscaglia, writer, teacher, and motivational speaker
Seaglass Sagas often showcase the motif of SCHOOL—a place and a process we’ve all experienced. It should not surprise me when three of my four protagonists turn out to be teachers. I’ve discovered that real education doesn’t happen just in that 12- or 15- or 20-year window of formal studies. We never stop learning. And we shouldn’t.
“I am still learning.” –Michelangelo, painter and sculptor, at age 87
Melissa, who once despised her school, becomes a Bible teacher in a transcultural setting. ESL teacher and linguist Cristina takes on the challenge of a classroom of backwoods misfits and dropouts. And Coni, who wanted to design upscale boutique fashions, ends up teaching arts, crafts, and sciences to Patagonian orphans. What educational secrets do they learn?
#1. Secret Rest
Since “in Christ Himself are hidden all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), learning to rest in the secret refuge we find in Jesus tops any teaching plan. I always tell my students that the teacher learns more than anyone else. But she can’t give out what she hasn’t first received.
We need continual connection with the Master Educator who communicated in stories—parables, object lessons, real-life examples. In the midst of a busy schedule, Jesus said: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:29). His workload fits lightly, comfortably. If it is His load for us.
Which brings us to the secret of tranquil contentment as well. Paul “learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Phil. 4:11). No, he wasn’t a superhuman Pollyanna with his head stuck in the sand. He simply decided to submit and study under Jesus, who Himself “learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). The blessed rest of His lessons.
“It’s not just learning things that’s important. It’s learning WHAT to do with what you learn and learning WHY you learn things at all that matters…” –Norman Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
#2. Secret Sense
Not a secret code, but common sense. We must learn to discern, between truth and lies, good and evil, justice and mercy. And also to distinguish when the path of our Lord Jesus Christ lies somewhere between righteousness and grace.
Unfortunately, that kind of prudent judgment is rarer than code-breaking geniuses these days. We can only manage it by staying in touch with God and grounded in His Word. “Teach me good discernment and knowledge, For I believe in Your commandments” (Ps. 119:66).
“The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.” –David Russell, classical guitarist
The first time Coni enters Marcos Serrano’s office (Swan Pose), she’s arrested by a plaque that reads: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). He explains to the teacher that, for him, wisdom means learning and doing what is important. Spending life’s limited time and energy on things that matter to the end game.
And the only way to get the equation right on the bottom line is some old-fashioned arithmetic—counting our days. Marcos’s educational secrets compel him to take advantage of every opportunity and every gift he’s granted.
Never stop learning, because each day counts.
#3. Secret Weapon
And never call Coni slow. She imitates those she admires. “The things you have learned and…heard and seen in me, do…” (Phil. 4:9). Her educational secrets are books. As she shares stories with her fourth-graders, their lives are enlarged and changed.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss, children’s author
But even more, God uses reading to transform Coni’s own life… to redeem her past… to alter her world. He utilizes that mighty instrument to rescue and SAVE many people.
An overblown idea? Not at all. Cristina, too, wields learning as a weapon to expand her students’ horizons and slash a way out of ignorance and apathy. The far-reaching effects turn their lives upside down and their island inside out. Quite literally, no one on Cocotúe remains unchanged by a determined schoolteacher and her educational secrets.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” –Nelson Mandela, activist and politician
Never stop teaching, because our minds keep growing, stretching, and rearranging the synapses to accommodate new data and new experiences. Learning keeps the secret weapon sharp as a first-day-of-school pencil.
“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes, physician and poet
#4. Secret Source
Thinking, to some extent, comes naturally. But you’d be surprised what an effort it is for those who’ve let their brains atrophy. Seriously, we have to keep exercising and stimulating the neurons. It not only takes thinking to learn; it takes learning to think.
I’ve mentioned before the sign in front of a local school here: DEVELOPING A THINKING CULTURE. A great ambition, of course, and I applaud them. Yet critical examination, not rote memorization and blind acceptance, should undergird all our educational secrets.
“Whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer… What you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow.” –Norman Juster, architect and writer
Each and every one of us can possess a secret wellspring of knowledge, imagination, and joy to call up in moments of need. How can we cry boredom when we have such sources of consolation and recreation available to us? How can we sink and sigh and shrivel up when the depths of our minds may be constantly refreshed and refilled?
Education invests in our future and in future generations. Whether online, on the page, or in a school daze, it’s worth every dime and every drop of sweat. As we deposit into the rich treasure mine of learning, we store up the mental reserves to power a destiny and arrive at a destination.
“If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him.” –Benjamin Franklin, inventor and diplomat
#5. Secret Feast
Jesus had secret resources too. After His encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria, He told His disciples: “I have food to eat that you do not know about… My food is to do the will of Him who sent me…” (Jn.4:32,34). His teaching moment and her learning moment provided educational secrets for both. Spiritual, emotional, and intellectual nourishment for the woman. For Jesus, the satisfaction of fulfilling His calling to accomplish God’s work.
“The destiny of nations depends on how they nourish themselves.” –Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste, gastronomic essayist
Remember the old computer lingo, GIGO? Garbage in, garbage out. Just as our bodies become what we eat, our minds become what we learn. While we should never stop learning, we should always undertake our educational journeys with care.
An excellent education, like a cheerful heart, provides a continual banquet (Prov. 15:15). But just as we need to choose our diet with a thought to nutrition and health, we also must monitor (under God’s schooling) the food we shovel into our brains. Every free choice we make entails a responsibility to use our God-given liberty wisely.
“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” –C. S. Lewis, theologian and writer
My daughter, heading to university amid widespread clamor for no-cost education in Chile, incisively remarked, “Education only gives a person more power to wield in whatever direction they were already headed.”
Let’s never stop learning, but learning in the right direction. What’s worse—a dull saint or a clever devil? Maybe it’s a toss-up.
#6. Secret Fire
“Burning hearts are not nourished by empty heads.” –R.C. Sproul, theologian
Of all my characters’ educational secrets, this quote above is posted in my personal library. As Christ-followers committed to setting the world ablaze (in the best sense), we’re motivated to kindle curiosity and desire in others and then to feed those flames. To stir hunger and thirst and prepare to offer bread and water. To get warmed and filled and pour out that passion.
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” –Socrates, philosopher
If we cannot even coax a crackle of excitement in ourselves, how do we hope to inspire others? Everything I learn urges me to share it, to spill it! Not stifle or store it.
Perhaps the darkness surrounding us pulls us to debate the merits of education. Should we make it our aim to better this world or prepare for the next? But why must the emphasis be either/or? Please, as Pastor Mark Batterson says in In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, let’s “stop cursing the darkness and light some candles.”
“The best education consists not in being taught but in being inspired; and if I could, I would rather inspire a single person than teach a thousand.” –Neel Burton, psychiatrist
Like Melissa, Cristina, Coni, Paul, and Jesus, we teachers light candles by learning the lessons first.
So turn on some hearts and minds. And keep the secret fire burning: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…and with all your mind…” (Mt. 22:37).