Part of our capacity for change is our capacity to learn; about ourselves and about the environment we work and live in. Of course, as time marches on, we tell ourselves that we can’t learn new processes, that we’re too set in our ways. Because of this, we tell ourselves that learning is what people do when they haven’t figured things out just yet. You’ve heard this before—children learn quicker than adults. Failures have to learn from their mistakes. We lose the ability to pick up new things, because we associate new things with immaturity. We become static, constitutionally immune to change, because we equate change and learning with a kind of weightless foolishness…“well, if you don’t know that by now, then…”
This way of thinking doesn’t measure up to how things actually work, in life or in the Spirit. Learning means understanding new principles. We found ourselves, our whole identities, on new ideas about how we operate, and about how that fits within our relationship to the world and the people around us. It’s a mistake to consider children to be less than we are—uncluttered by baggage, children learn through being open and receptive to change. It’s also a mistake to consider those who have failed to be less. Failure allows for growth. It allows for humility, to accept that we can be more. Coming back successfully from failure is so essential a part of our evolution as individuals. It’s genuinely one step backwards and two, three, four or more steps forwards.
Simon Peter, renamed from the beginning of his discipleship as Christ’s rock, was a man of great and headstrong passion, who often blundered as a result of his eagerness to speak before properly considering the consequences. At the transfiguration, when Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah upon the mountaintop and was placed before them in the eyes of his disciples, Peter made the unprompted suggestion that a monument be made commemorating the three together. Immediately following this gaffe, God appeared in the form of a cloud obscuring the sun, and spoke to those present, naming Jesus as His son and commanding them to listen to Him. A defining moment in the New Testament is also, in a smaller way, the story of Simon Peter’s inability to immediately take on board the lesson clearly laid out before him. In Christ’s final days, the famous story of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus further illustrates the level to which he was capable of panicking under pressure. Yet Simon Peter was aptly named. Following Pentecost, he grew to eclipse those little failures to become the man that Jesus saw when He recruited him all those years earlier. He learned. He evolved in the Spirit. His whole paradigm of being changed.
In our prior personas before Christ, we were so sure about so many things. Who we were in the world, what we represented, who we could become. We defined ourselves by outside criteria of what constituted a success, and considered ourselves whole people. But let us be clear—there is no question of us becoming whole people without the intervention of the Spirit. In that intervention, we are made anew. Our paradigms shift at that point. Why suppose this is a one-off? Why imagine that we have nowhere more to go, nothing more to learn?
There’s nothing more fun, more freeing, than admitting that you have more to learn, more to take on board. Sitting at the feet of Christ as we do, there will always be another lesson to consider. We’re grateful for the last lesson—we need to be thankful for the next! The most appropriate emotions when faced with the work of the Spirit in our lives are astonishment and gratitude. These are humble emotions that any child or failure can tell you all about. That’s something you’re capable of learning from them, if you ever begin to feel that you cannot learn any more in the Kingdom. God is about a dynamic movement forwards; a journey from our past to our future, and a journey is never complete with a single step.
Our gradual transformation to becoming more like Jesus is an ongoing process, a constant evolution. Old thoughts and ways of doing things pass away, replaced by, spiritually speaking, more efficient processes. Better ways of thinking and feeling. We become closer to the person God wants us to be and knows that we can be. There’s no condemnation of Simon Peter at the Cross, and there’s no condemnation of us, knowing how much we have to learn, and to unlearn. We’re all openhearted children and reborn failures, disciples and rocks of the Kingdom in the eyes of God. That alone makes the learning and the unlearning worthwhile.