I surmise that most people go through cycles of learning lessons already learned. At least, I’m hoping that I’m not the only one—or even in the minority. The lessons I relearn are not always exactly the same circumstances, but they still are the same lessons.
One of the less significant ones, when it comes to an avocation of mine, is “measure twice, cut once.” I say this so often that my 15 year old son (code for “never listens to his father”) repeated it to me the other day when he was preparing to cut something.
“Measure twice, cut once” can be specifically applied to something one is going to cut, but it can more broadly be applied to checking the angle of the cut as well. That’s what I didn’t do just now. It was a 45 degree cut on a piece of trim, but I cut it the opposite way. As soon as I held the piece up to the place around a doorway where it was to go I heard the words in my head loudly “measure twice, cut once…idiot!” I will, no doubt, be more careful, for a while and then I’ll do it again on something else.
The truth of the matter is that there are some other fundamental lessons in life that I continue to relearn as well, lessons about my temper or my reactions or my feelings or my moods or my trust or the posture of my soul when it comes to being faithful without thinking about it.
Relearning such lessons can be frustrating, but it can also be humorous. Frankly, it’s a very humbling thing to keep tripping over the same stump. It reminds me that I will never be holy without God making me so. I will never be righteous without God willing me to be righteous. I will never be able to love purely and without qualification or hesitation, without God loving through me and loving me through it too.
God surely smiles when I measure once and end up cutting twice—or whatever lesson I overlook or forget. Living by such lessons is something that is certainly easier when we learn the lesson much earlier in life. It makes me think about what the Apostle Paul heard when he described his encounter with the risen Jesus “Saul, why do you keep kicking against the goads?” I’m a goad-kicker too. At least when it comes to certain lessons. Hearing that voice in my head asking why I keep measuring once or keep forgetting to follow some simple rule in order to make peace rather than fury can be both frustrating and humorous, again. I have to hear the voice with a chuckle being held back just a little bit so that I can hear some grace in it as well. Yes, I will undoubtedly keep kicking against some painful goad and relearn a lesson I’ve already learned. Perhaps by the time I’m losing my memory I’ll be able to live by the lessons a little more out of habit.
It isn’t surprising that one of the most common commands in the Bible is “remember”. God says “remember what I’ve done for you; remember what I’ve told you; remember where you’ve come from; remember to be compassionate in the way that you needed compassion; remember when you were homeless so that you can help the wanderer; remember the gift I’ve given you; remember your ancestors who were obedient; remember that I’ve delivered you.” And so on. Right on into the Gospels “do this in remembrance of me.” I think that such remembering is less about reciting some litany or repeating some oath and more about the memory rising from one’s character.
I would imagine that I’m not way off base by saying that the Church as a whole relearns some basic lessons over and over and over again. There are a lot of churches that would do well to remember to measure and measure and measure, before cutting anything—except maybe the budget for pointless stuff that has nothing to do with the Gospel.
One of the challenging things that followers of Jesus must admit and live is that we are just like everyone else who aren’t followers of Jesus: we all keep tripping over the same stumps and stubbing the same sore toes. There’s not much difference between us except that those of us who claim to follow Jesus are supposed to provide some bandages for stubbed toes. That, and we trust that some day all toes will walk stump-free paths.
© Stephen Carl