Do I Have a Teachable Spirit?
I am a woman who has made a lot of mistakes. Yup. Just ask my family.
My high school English teacher warned me about this. I distinctly remember the moment she turned to me mid-conversation and asked, “Jaci, when are you going to get your priorities straight?”
I remember thinking, Priorities? She doesn’t know me. I have it all figured out. Why would she talk to me that way?
Well, clearly, I did not have it all figured out and obviously she was speaking to me in love because I miss her to this day.
So what is it in us that bucks correction? Why do we quickly respond, “Oh, I already know that”? When we respond this way, what have we shut off? What have we just missed out on?
In that moment with my English teacher, what would have happened if I had said, “Help me understand how to do that” rather than responding so defensively? What mistakes could I have avoided if I had changed that moment?
I guess I knew that a teachable spirit was important. My mother was always quoting Proverbs on this subject:
“Give instruction to the wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” — Proverbs 9:9, ESV
“Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.” — Proverbs 13:18, ESV
(To be clear, my mother summarized these verses in her own words. I did not figure out until much later that everything she told us in those moments was right out of this book.)
We did not have an actual word for it, but we knew we should pay attention. In Sunday School, we had learned the Ten Commandments, including, “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you...” (Deuteronomy 5:16, ESV)
But what does it mean to honor your parents? What does it mean to be “teachable”?
My Nama was a gifted seamstress. She could walk into a store and see a dress she liked then go home and build a pattern for it and create something beautiful. But she had no ability to teach what she knew. She would get impatient. I would get impatient.... At one point, I decided I wanted to re-cover my sofa. Nama was the only person I knew that had actually done it. (Every time we visited, she had new upholstery.) I decided to call her and ask her how to do it. (I made the phone call AFTER I purchased the upholstery fabric... yup.)
Her instructions to me were, “Just lay newspaper on the couch to make the pattern and then you want it to fit like a glove.”
I think I asked three times exactly what that meant. She would use different explanations, but she would always end with that statement, “You just want it to fit like a glove.” I could hear the frustration growing in her voice.
Nama did not live close enough to just come over and demonstrate what she meant, but my mother, who had helped her on a few occasions, was with me. The only way we were able to finally cover my couch was my mother’s memory of the times she had gone through the steps with Nama. So after a while, “newspaper” and “fit like a glove” began to make sense to my mother.
I know there are many pictures out there to prove our success. But in this one, you can see that at the very least, we did something. If it had not been for my mother’s willingness to listen as she had worked with her mother all those years ago, we would never have been able to complete this project.
Honestly, by actually listening to my mother’s translation of Nama’s instructions and watching what she did to create the pattern Nama had described, I began to see what I had missed by just using what I already knew. I already recognized my mother as incredibly talented, but that day her abilities reached new heights in my own view.
Not only was she able to figure the project out, she was patient enough to talk me through it. And for me, this is still one of my favorite memories. Here I was an adult — finally realizing the value of listening to my parents! I was actually letting my mother direct me.
In a homeschooling community, I see the absence of a teachable spirit frequently in children.
I love to see children get excited about something. I love to see them share what they know. But even more than that, I love to see them ask questions. Sometimes, when children tell an adult everything they know about a subject, they don’t hear what anyone else has to say... then they miss out on something the adult wants to share from personal experience.
Peter warned his followers about this when he wrote, “You who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (I Peter 5:5, ESV) He was not telling them to be ignorant, he was merely warning the younger believers to allow the elders to teach them some of the things they had experienced rather than assuming they were “Super Christians” who already knew everything.
I teach literature classes one day a week to homeschooling students of all ages. A few years ago, a young student looked at the notes I had made on her paper and asked, “Why do you hate us?”
I was surprised, “What do you mean?”
“You marked all over my paper.”
It didn’t take long for the rest of the class to make the same assumption. “You must hate us if you don’t like our work.”
I finally held up my hand and waited for them to quiet down. Then I tried my best to explain, “I want you to be really good writers.... How many of you play a sport?”
Several hands went up.
“Do you just show up for games? Or do you go to practice?” I waited as this began to sink in. “The only way for you to get better at something is to study the best and practice the skill. My job is to help you get better at this SKILL of writing.”
The conversation was much longer than this because it took several discussions like this over the course of several months to help them to understand the goal.
Do you know why it took several discussions? Not only was I trying to nurture their writing skills, but I also wanted to encourage a teachable spirit.
**This process might have been much less painful for me if I had fully understood what a teachable spirit is and how to nurture it.
The absence of a teachable spirit is obvious. Think about the last time you heard a sermon on The Prodigal Son. The pastor read through the verses in Luke and you quietly thought to yourself, Oh, I’ve heard this before. Then your mind began to wander and you can’t remember anything about that sermon.
What did you miss out on? What new revelation was the Holy Spirit hoping you would hear through that message?
How will Jesus ever teach us to become more like him if we do not allow him to? II Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (ESV)
The heaviest responsibility we have as teachers is making sure that what we are offering lines up with and is filtered through scripture. What could I offer that would drive my students to look at what I was teaching them as preparation and not a personal attack against their creativity, their ideas, or their opinions?
The questions my students asked that day led me to fully understand this responsibility. What happened next required me to let God teach ME so that I could begin to nurture this spirit in my students. I’ve tried to replay those steps in my mind and I want to share them with you.
Nurturing a teachable spirit cannot be done in “10 easy steps.” If those steps are out there, I hope someone will share them with me. But I can tell you what began to change in the way I taught my students.
So my next step was “Nurturing a Teachable Spirit.”