What Are You Learning?



I have absolutely no idea where this was injected into me, or honestly who even said it, but somewhere in my development when I was going through a hard time, I heard the words, “Well, at least you’re building character.” Maybe it was an internal voice? My grandma? An annoying friend? It really doesn’t matter where it originated—it’s in me, the idea that somehow, some way, I am always being developed.

And hard times build character. Right?

I honestly don’t think it’s one of the most helpful things to say. I would put it on the list of “Things to not say in the moment when your friend is hurting.” Seriously? That’s what you’re going to tell me in this moment?

But whether someone says it or not, it’s in my head. I can’t count the number of times over the decades I have screamed out, “I’m tired of building character! I don’t want to build character! I just want things to be easier! Now!”

Yet, alas, some truths we have to live with.

And it is true—every single hard experience we go through is somehow building our character, shaping us, forming us, growing us, teaching us, strengthening us.


At least that’s how I feel.  Most days, I don’t want to be shaped and formed and grown and taught and strengthened.  

I just want a nap.

Last year was a good year for me in a lot of ways, but it was definitely a hard year, too.  I have felt extremely vulnerable in more ways than one.

I was out there, more, talking about Faith Shift in a variety of venues in real life and online.  I’m always reminded that anything related to our faith stories is bound to be tender, raw, intense.  Also, the work that we do at The Refuge is complicated. Living in the day to day of so much pain and real, messy life on the margins—along with theological differences in a diverse community—sometimes takes its toll.

I am in more hard conversations than I want to be.

I am showing up, telling the truth, trying to trust God and let go of the outcome more than I actually want to show up.

I am being forced to building more character than I want to.

The question that I do like a lot more than character building that I tried to lean into in 2015 was: “What am I learning right now through this??

That’s the question I’ve been integrating into my life more, and it’s been bringing me some peace.

What am I learning through ___________ (fill in the blank)?

Usually it’s always somehow about myself, or others, or God in some way. And like all things, they are usually somehow all tangled up together.

Ugh, again!

Or is it, Yay?

I know in the deepest places that learning is not something to resist but something to embrace.

That I’m always being formed.

That God is always at work in my life.

That people in my life are each here for a reason.

At the same time, I haven’t been trying to figure out “what am I learning?” in every bumpy moment and make it all neat and tidy and explainable. That defeats the purpose and makes real life far too mechanical. What I’m trying to lean into is to embrace a deeper sense that every conflict, every tension, every wacky moment, every circumstance where I can feel my heart want to close down and protect-protect-protect or my mind starting to spin that I am, indeed, learning something.

Something’s going on in a deeper place.

In my soul.

In my heart.

In my mind.

And it’s worth paying attention to.

Not to beat myself up. Not to figure out how to solve it. Not to make it all “work” somehow.  

But because I’m a learner.  

A student.

A human.

And there’s always an awful lot of amazing, hard, beautiful, tricky, painful, wonderful things to learn—about myself, about the people around me, about the God who’s with me.

That’s a gift, a treasure.

It makes me think of the Chinese proverb—“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”


Shelovelys, what are you learning these days?