When I was a kid I didn’t like to read.
I barely passed high school. The way I made it through was primarily by cheating. I’m still thankful for my friend, the teacher’s aid, who often marked in the teacher’s book that I had actually done my homework. I appreciate my girlfriend who wrote several of my papers so that I would pass a class. And I’m even grateful for that bookshelf in Government class where I could easily hide a piece of paper with all of the test answers.
So I managed to skim through and went to college, part-time, right out of high school, due only to my dad’s prompting. The problem was, I had an even worse study ethic than before because a large portion of my time was spent partying. After failing a few classes I dropped out. So, for the next several years I focused on work and starting a family.
But something dramatic happened in the process. I became a believer in Christ. With this new relationship came a new vision for my life. I started college for the second time when I was 23, almost 24.
When I re-started college to pursue a focus on biblical education I always had this nagging sense that even though I was older than most of my college peers I was actually waaayyyy behind, both due to my previous lack of educational motivation and due to not having been raised in an overtly Christian home. This internal sense was further exacerbated by the fact that both my older brothers were avid readers and well self-educated (there is no sibling rivalry whatsoever). My claim to fame at this point in my life was merely my work ethic. I knew how to work. And I worked a lot. And I worked hard. Truth is, to this day I almost always feel like I am playing catch-up.
So my college experience began and suddenly I was opened to the realm of possibilities. Professors instilled in me the simple idea that we should question things. I was confronted by the profound yet simple realization that there is soooo much to learn; that I know so very little; that my view of things and my ideas are so extremely limited, and that even the things I thought I knew were probably wrong, skewed, or incomplete at best. And thus was birthed a love, a drive, for learning.
The thing is, we often over-estimate the depth of own knowledge base. We assume our experiences, our background, and even our education give us the tools we need to accurately assess the world around us. We think we “know” a lot about a lot. But, we are often blind to our own limitations and inadequacies.
I was struck by this idea one random day while I was a Youth Pastor. I thought I knew everything there was to know about teenager-ness and about leading teenagers because after all, I had been one myself, and we had two teenagers living in our home. So clearly, I was the man. I thought with my newly established biblical education and my life experiences I could lead these young people and guide them into godly maturity. After three months of being the Youth Pastor I was frustrated, stressed, and felt like I was failing.
Then this thought suddenly assaulted me, “what makes you think you know anything about youth ministry? All you’ve done so far is make assumptions.” Ouch! I wasn’t sure where to start so – I reached for a book. I started inundating myself with as much information and as many tools as I could find to minister to teens. But, as I began to grow, and learn, and stretch, I was confronted with a much deeper and more painful realization. As I was traversing through this step of my journey I was further accosted with this thought, “Yeah, you have two teenagers and two other children, but really, what makes you think you know anything about being a good, godly parent? What makes you think you know what it really means to be a father? Do you think the examples you grew up with were enough to prepare you for this?” Holy Smokes! It only took me a moment to declare, “Absolutely not! The painful truth is, I don’t have a clue!” Truthfully, I wanted to go back and start over. But we all know, that’s not an option. At this point in my life I only knew of one place to go. I needed to find a book.
A similar experience happened about fifteen years into my marriage. “What makes you think you know how to be a good husband? Do you really think the examples you had prepared you for this?” And again I say, “Absolutely not!” Since that time I have read one book after another about marriage.
So this journey really began for me in 1991. But here’s the crazy thing: the more I read, the more I learn, the more I grow … the more I realize how much I do not know. It often feels like the more I read, the more I learn, the further behind I get. I’m not a speed reader. I don’t dedicate nearly enough time to reading. I’m a little bit lazy. I like t.v. a little bit too much. And most of the time reading still feels a lot like work. But, I place so much value on the learning process, on being challenged, and changed, and confronted, and encouraged, that I intentionally engage in it.
A few years back a staff member asked me, “David, how did you get this way? I mean, how did you learn to be such a good leader?” (For clarity, those were his words, not mine. I’m not claiming to be a good leader. I’m claiming to be nothing more than a student).
I was both humbled and honored by his statement and question. As I pondered for a moment how to respond I realized, I am who I am today first because of the astounding grace of God. Second, the tremendous love, care, and forgiveness of my bride. And finally, because of the books I’ve read. The authors have become some of the most defining mentors in my life. By reading both the word of God and these books I have been confronted with … myself, with new ideas, and a new way of thinking.
This whole thought came to mind because I just finished my 16th book for this year. I’m not bragging. As I said, I’m no speed reader. I have a friend who claims to read 75 books a year. Though I feel some satisfaction at this accomplishment (my goal for this year is 20), to me it is more a sign of my desperation.
I’m at a place where I can’t quit. I can’t get enough. Because, I’m further behind than when I started.