By Bill Mowry
After years of receiving bad haircuts, I decided to entrust my hair to a hair stylist. Nicky was my wife’s stylist so I made an appointment with her. We soon hit it off. It turned out that she was launching a second career as a life coach.
While cutting my hair, we talked about coaching and learning. During one of our conversations, I had a sudden flash of inspiration. “You know Nicki, this ten-foot-square solon is your classroom.”
“I never thought of it this way, but you’re right,” she replied.
I began to ask her questions about what she had learned as a stylist since graduating from cosmetology school. It was obvious that she had moved beyond her basic classroom training. She told me how her craft taught her about people and how to connect with them. She learned how good questions opened conversations. Experience with the peculiarities of a client’s hair taught her flexibility. Her salon became her classroom.
Nicki’s initial professional training provided basic skills that she adapted and changed as she worked with customers. She grew in wisdom that went beyond her training. This was wisdom that responded flexibly to the context and to the person rather than relying on a rigid formula. If she were to mentor another stylist, she would probably say, “You know, they teach you this in the classroom, but this is how it works in real life.” She acquired new wisdom through the solon’s classroom. Nicki has biographical wisdom.
You and I are always in God’s classroom, learning wisdom from life. This is biographical wisdom. It’s the wisdom we accumulate from experience that allows us to respond flexibly to life and ministry, a wisdom that doesn’t follow a rigid formula, a wisdom that seeks what is good to do and what is right to do.
To tap into this wisdom, we must have conversations with ourselves like the one I had with Nicki. These conversations direct us to reflect and extract wisdom from ordinary places like a hair solon.
We look for flashes of the spectacular, but God delights in changing us through the everyday— an offhand conversation, an unexpected experience, or the routine of work. In his classic devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “We look for visions from heaven, for earthquakes and thunders of God’s power . . . and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us.
Citing Proverbs 30:24-28, author Garry Friesen notes that one source of wisdom is “life itself.” Life is the place where the Lord builds wisdom, and “we should become students of life as well as of Scriptures.” Life is where transformation happens. Author Tish Harrison Warren writes, “God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.”
When we turn the “small moments of today” into God’s classroom, we discover that education is more than attending conferences, listening to podcasts, or reading one more bestselling business book. Education happens when we intentionally turn our lives and ministry settings into a classroom by paying attention to God’s presence. We learn to draw wisdom from our life biographies; we become lifelong learners.
Did you know that experience and expertise have similar root meanings? Experience, from the Latin, means “knowledge or skill [gained] from doing, seeing or feeling this.” The word expert comes from Latin and means “a person wise from experience.” We become experts by learning from experience, by reflecting on our actions, by the fact that classroom is always in session. The result is biographical wisdom.
You and I are students in God’s classroom of life; a classroom without tuition, textbooks, or travel. How do we get the most out of life’s classroom? How do we grow in biographical wisdom? We need to stop, explore, save, and do. The first step is to STOP.
In the rapid-fire pace of today’s workplaces, neighborhoods, and ministry settings, we must resist the pull towards non-stop activity. We must deliberately stop and reflect on how God is at work is us, around us, and through us. This means stopping to pay attention.
- Plan to stop. After a busy day or week, sit back and mentally review the day’s or week’s events. Recall a significant conversation, a work conflict or success, time playing with your children, a Bible study you led or attended, or an event in the news.
- From this life scan, select an event or conversation to explore in depth. Bombard this event with questions. Here are some examples:
- What did I discover about myself — my values, emotions, or attitudes?
- What did I discover about God?
- What did I observe about how people related to one another? to the Lord?
- Why was this event so important to consider?
- How is this event influencing how I feel, my thinking, how I view others?
Asking these questions creates a conversation that enables you to tap into the biographical wisdom of your life. You’re practicing lifelong learning. The additional steps to learn from life are to explore, save, and do; practical disciplines that I provide instruction for in my new book The Ways of the Leader.
Imagine the potential in a church or ministry where we teach people how to capture biographical wisdom; life lessons that can be passed-on to others. In our churches and ministries, we have experts in small group leadership, money management, effective parenting, or how to initiate faith conversations with neighbors. We don’t need outside experts, but we must empower and unleash the experts already present! When we encourage biographical wisdom, we’re stewarding God’s wisdom in God’s people. Class is always in session!