Our autumn has been blissfully warm so far and not too many leaves have fallen yet; we haven’t even had to rake (though it’s probably about time).
For all my Florida friends, here’s how this works: you rake up your leaves and then pile them into yard waste disposal bags. This was a totally new experience for us last year! The first time he raked, Evan was struggling to get the leaves from his neat little piles in the yard into the bag, when our neighbor Jim came to the rescue. (Remember my story about my neighbor Jolanda? Jim is Jolanda’s husband. Those two are often coming to our rescue.)
Jim walked over and handed Evan this handy-dandy leaf scooper…thing. It’s basically a piece of cardboard that folds to fit inside the top of the leaf bag, keeping leaves from spilling everywhere as you transfer them from your rake. (I feel like such a crazy person even explaining this to you. It seems so obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to us poor, transplanted Floridians.) We were beginners, and Jim was the expert. (As much as someone can be an expert in, you know, leaf raking. It also turns out that we had purchased the wrong kind of leaf disposal bags, but that’s a different story entirely.)
Later that fall, we joined a church small group. During the first meeting, as members of the new group were introducing each other, we talked about our recent move and our naiveté about the impending winter. A flood of questions from everyone in the group ensued. “Do you have a snow shovel?” “Have you ever experienced a real winter?” “What kind of ice scraper do you have?” I’m sure our answers of, “Nope,” “Not really,” and “What do we need?” made everyone take pity on us.
The following Tuesday, another couple, John and Amanda, walked in and handed us a brand new ice scraper. “This is what you need,” John said. “Hopefully it will help.”
I keep wondering how to write those two stories in a way that seems more…dramatic. But those moments sound simple because they were simple: someone helped us rake our leaves and someone bought us an ice scraper. It’s practical and straightforward and not earth-shattering. Still, those are some of the most concretely generous things anyone has done for us.
I recently shared that according to Strengthfinders, my top strength is “learner.” Supposedly, learners enjoy the process of learning as much as they do being an “expert” in something. I suppose that’s sometimes true of me, but admittedly, rarely. I dislike trial and error and hate practicing. I hate feeling like a novice, and I avoid asking someone to show me how to do something.
This is one of the reasons moving has been so hard: I feel like a beginner all the time. I am not at all an expert in navigating Meijer, returning cans and bottles to get the deposit back, driving in the snow, dressing my children appropriately for the weather. I don’t know the right kind of boots to buy or how to appropriately prep my house for freezing temps. Being a beginner is vulnerable; I risk being exposed as inexperienced, bad at something, or even ignorant.
It recently occurred to me that Scripture is full of beginners. Abram had no map and no clear destination when he began his journey to the promised land. Moses had no experience as a social justice advocate or in community building. When the opportunity to fight Goliath arrived, David had no military experience. Goodness knows, when Mary was asked to carry and birth and raise God’s Son, she hadn’t had much time to read parenting books. Though they sometimes resisted, none of these people let their inexperience prevent them from saying “yes” to God; this lack of experitse certainly didn’t exclude them from God’s calling, purpose, or love.
There are also plenty of examples of people who had credentials and experience, but that didn’t help them much when push came to shove. Jonah comes to mind—a prophet, a traveller, a man who had been used by God a whole slew of times. But when given his most important assignment, he allowed what he thought he knew to keep him from following God.
I’ve said “no” an awful lot of things in my life, both big and small—learning to ride a bike, playing basketball, leadership positions, job opportunities, traveling, big conversations. I want to say “yes” more often, even if I’m scared, even if it feels vulnerable, and even if I’m not 100% confident that I’ll be good.
Embracing being a beginner necessitates stepping out of my comfort zone, showing up, and allowing myself to be seen. But it means that I learn more. It means that I level the playing field with those working and living around me. Even better, it often helps me acknowledge the dignity and value of others by providing an opportunity for them to teach and help me. I like who I’m becoming when I’m willing to be a learner instead of an expert. I think I better embody who God had made me to be when I make peace with being a beginner.
“What we know matters but who we are matters more.” —Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” -Meister Eckhard