Righteousness over Right-ness: Cultivating Wonder

My elementary aged daughter has been working on her math facts. One certain game uses buzzers and a large red “X” to signal a wrong answer.  One day, these signals sent my girl into a frenzy of “I can’t!”... “ I do not know!”... “I am terrible”! Kneeling beside her, I questioned why she was expecting herself to know the answer. These were new facts and we were using the game to learn.  I listened as she described beliefs that performance measured intelligence, intelligence determined worth, and not knowing answers would bring judgement. (She used more 2nd grade terms but this was the gist.) Sharing and celebrating these reasons I chose this game with her, I asked her to just breathe and see if she learned stronger and more deeply when given the correct answer and prompted to type it. I also asked her to notice the next time it popped up if she recognized it. We discussed shifting the focus away from the buzzer and the red x and moving to the wonder of learning. We celebrated the attitude, effort, and time she used to practice rather then how many she got correct the first time.

The next Monday, after practicing a different task with the same approach, she was beginning an assignment and from the other room I heard exclamations of:  “I know how to work at this!!!! I can do this!!!” And she proceeded to do the entire assignment straight through with no emotions, tears, or even breaks. She finished it with excellence- not perfection - but with calmness and strength.

Another day,  my middle-schooler was recovering from an illness while trying to catch up on a week of missed school assignments.  He was searching for answers online and one video was creating a question. It presented a problem with no solution in order to elicit thinking, examination, and discovery rather than just give the answer. He was infuriated from the lack of immediate closure!  Once again the door for a good conversation was opened and I stayed with him as he really learned the material rather than just filling in a blank.

Our culture regularly measures how many times we are right as evidence for how well we learn. But being right is not the same thing as learning. In seasons where I have most exclaimed my “right-ness” even with external evidence, I have been the worst learner. I have watched my 2nd grader’s wonder and love of learning become stifled by the world’s demands for “right-ness” and watched my middle schooler rush to be right.

This pattern can lead to fear of being wrong or even saying “I don’t know”.  Seeking truth and finding out becomes overwhelming. So we survive our 13 years of elementary through high school and tolerate our 4 years of college.  Then we shut down. Many adults feel like they put in their time learning and now they are finished. We lack a love of learning propelling us to marvel learning about our spouse or our kids… learning about marriage and what God really meant for it to be… or to study development from His Truth. May we come to realize that we and the people in our lives will change and shift and that we will continually be able to study them if only we come with an acknowledgement and a posture of not knowing... in order to know.

Take this into our relationship with a Holy God and Father whom we will never fully understand but who will supply endless intimate study portions.  Rather than shutting down and believing the lie that we are supposed to be right… and if we are not right we must make ourselves right or get far away…., what if we come in a posture of wonder, of learning, of seeking to know not to understand or justify ---to intimately marvel?

As I prayerfully pondered all of this, God clarified in my heart how right-ness and righteousness oppose each other. With right-ness, I worship myself and cloak with self. However with righteousness, I worship God and wear the cloak of righteousness through Christ alone. Right-ness forces me to find fault with and reject those who are not “right” (notice I am not declaring them wrong) and sets me up for loneliness and seclusion (in which my one true enemy delights). On the other hand, genuine righteousness connects in unity of the Spirit empowering us to bear with one another. My goal in “right-ness” is to be the expert; my goal in righteousness is to intimately connect with my Creator. Open-minded right-ness helps me justify everything but it is stifling to maintain. Righteousness filters the things of the world leaving space for God to fill and me to breath. Right-ness limits me to only cheer for “successful winners” but righteousness propels me to “for” everyone. This imitates the Father as Numbers repeats: “He is for them like the horns of the wild ox.”

These particular moments with my kids were a win, because my kids could hear the difference in what we were discussing versus what the world yells at us.  However, I often miss the opportunity or get sucked into the “being right” syndrome myself. We live in an age of instant answers at our fingertips, a time when we have to remember very little as long as we know how to find it and a culture where extrinsic performance, grades, “likes”, scores, and paycheck amounts are more highly esteemed than  the intrinsic rewards of learning for the sake of understanding and working for the sake of contributing. I want to increase celebration of these intrinsics in my own personal life. I pray the Holy Spirit will increase my sensitivity and eyes to see them rather than searching the extrinsic as measurements or value markers. I have been prayerfully pondering some other practical ways to shift from seeking  right-ness to marveling at learning. They include:

  1. Soaking in Ephesians 4:2-3; Numbers 23:22, 24:8; Isaiah 61:10; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

  2. Decreasing my spews of my opinion and speak only with Truth and fact.

  3. Surrounding myself with other learners and listening to them. My husband encourages me in this regularly with his own desire to practice learning.

  4. Keeping a journal of one thing I learned each day along with one thing for which I am thankful. This could be a fun fact or a new tidbit about someone in my life.

  5. Embracing rather than fearing questions whether they are my own or my family’s. Not expecting everyone else to act right or have right answers.  

  6. Listening to listen and see; not to form a response.

  7. Consciously marveling at God, at people, at creation, and at life. Exercising wonder more than exercising muscles!

What are some practical ways that help you value being a learner over being “right”?

Karen Isbell