Caution: For the introspective recluse with limited interactions, this essay may suggest that you have to expand your circle of relations and become vulnerable. For the gregarious extrovert with extensive social circles, this post may suggest you narrow your circle of relations and become vulnerable.
Question: Are you an apprentice, and a teacher, and a doer?
These are essentials, especially for the Christian.
Let me be offensive and suggest that many (most?) people in western cultures settle for adequacy in life -- a level at which their zone of comfort protects them enough from reality: I have my McDonalds / favorite organic new-age veggie salad (your preference), I take a vacation each year, I have a circle of friends, a job (for now), I manage to ignore the pain of my past, what more do I need? Many in the poorest developing nations similarly settle into a zone of discomfort because they've had all the ambition beaten out of them: I have a shack, a toilet, a government grant, the local shebeen, and a soccer field nearby, I have blinded myself to the pain of the future, what more do I need?
And so we come to Disney's classic "The Sorcerers Apprentice", which carries some simple deep truths (as do so many fantasy tales). It's about the way we grow.
There are three basic, parallel and lifelong ways we grow in skill, expertise, understanding, and insight -- three ways to learn. I am not thinking here of academia (although of course it applies), but thinking of the "me" - growing my body, mind, and spirit in a world that is, if nothing else, relational.
1. We become an apprentice, like a blacksmith apprentice who would live in the presence of the master, watching, hearing, and experiencing the essence of a blacksmith. Sadly, the formal apprenticeships of yesteryear are few and far between now. Today we've corrupted this to the production lines of university credits, or the plethora of self-help books on "3 ways to attract members of the opposite sex", and other such weighty topics. But really, there is plenty of opportunity to become apprentices. Court the company of those who are wise, for there I can hear what they say, see what they do, and discuss what they profess (as a university Professor once was ... someone who professes). This is where we really learn, in the presence of proficiency ... experiencing it first hand to learn a thousandfold more than merely being told. Sadly some hide away in shells of insecurity, while others have a wide and diffuse social network. In both cases we never develop a Master-apprentice relationship.
2. We teach what we've learned. Probably the best way to instill knowledge is to teach it. For to explain it to another means we have to fully understand it ourselves. To teach is hard, because we think we understand when all we do is know. The experience of teaching forces us to dig deeper, to integrate knowledge so it becomes understanding, for only then are we able to effectively pass it on. In teaching we are challenged by our apprentices ... we are the experts who the young apprentices seek to supplant, until they too learn the humility of competency and the responsibility for another.
3. We use our skills, we do things. Imagine an apprentice blacksmith who had never beaten a bar of glowing iron, never fired a charcoal furnace, never known the pain of failure. Imagine a doctor who had never cut someone's skin, never cured a disease, never seen someone die. It is in the doing that we gain experiential knowledge which can not be acquired any other way. This is the knowledge the apprentice can never learn from the master, and the teacher can never acquire from the pupil - what it feels like to handle a glowing bar of iron, the difficulties of managing the health of a person, they way a pupil can creatively mis-interpret. Doing means taking risks, becoming vulnerable to failure, investing in something or someone that is not ourselves.
So now to the Christian, and three questions. It is the model of relationships that everyone has a mentor, a pupil, and an activity. We are, if nothing else, made for relationship.
a) Who am I "apprenticed" to? Who do I have a personal relationship with, the one I go to for knowledge, explanation, correction, advice, guidance. Who do I trust enough to admonish me? Who will be a tester of my thinking of God? Do I have enough humility to acknowledge my inadequacies in such a relationship? For it is here I learn of what it means to become what I was created to be.
b) Who am I teaching? Who is the person who has trusted me enough to be mentored by me, to be guided by me? Am I carrying my responsibility to impart understanding? For it is here I find the difference between truth and knowledge.
c) Where am I acting? What do I do for others? How do I employ my skills, my talents, my mastery of a competency to invest in more than myself, to invest in others, and to invest in what God has called good. Here I anneal my understanding, hone my skills, learn failure, find the Joy of success, understand others, and gain new insight.
Three simple facets of life. Easy to ignore, hard to do. But unless these are inherent in my life, I live in inadequacy, I short change myself, and I miss out on Joy.
Joy is not happiness. I can be joyful in grief, laughter, and toil. Joy is knowing I am living as I was created to be. Joy is the endpoint of growth in relationship with God. I long for the day I have died, when the fleeting moments of Joy blend into one seamless being of who I really am.