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Love, The Better Teacher

By Brent McKinney

I had become a pretty good liar.

See, I had just come back to Christianity from a three-year hiatus after my dad died when I was 13. In the interim, I’d made great friends in the punk rock scene (the real one, not the one you can buy at Hot Topic in the mall) and through involvement on sports teams. I was an angry kid, rescued and brought back to Christian circles by one of those youth leaders who saw extraordinary possibilities in a pretty ordinary kid.

That youth leader loved me, man. He met with me one-on-one for a while. He helped me navigate the Bible church world as a newbie. He let me hang around with his family at their house. He came to games. He got me connected with a small group of Bible study guys. In short, he communicated the unwritten rules of my new community.

And, I had to lie to him. A lot.

Because he asked me questions about how my quiet time was going. He asked about my journaling. He dove in on my prayer life. He was curious about my time in the Word. He asked about my attendance at R-rated movies and my music choices because he wanted me to strive to be holy. He checked in on my small group accountability and big church worship. He had questions for every single one of those unwritten rules and codes.

One thing I know about legalism from my experience is that it will make you a better liar. And since I really liked him and wanted him to like me, I said what I thought he needed to hear: Getting up early! Praying without ceasing! Living in the Word! Three-steps-forward-two-steps back on the movies/music thing but progressing quite nicely thank you! Connecting with my small group for accountability and enjoying Sunday mornings! Everything is coming along swimmingly! Thanks for asking!

I attempted all those things…but they seemed like drudgery to me. Sleep was pretty important to me in my teenage years. Prayer felt like I was talking to nobody. I didn’t understand what I was reading. I wasn’t about to give up my music or movies. I went to small group for social reasons and I couldn’t stand the music during the services. I tried them all…and felt guilty that what seemed to “work” for everybody else didn’t “work” for me.

I went off to university years still playing the games…and then another guy who saw extraordinary possibilities in an ordinary college kid started teaching me about grace as a motivation for the spiritual life. Instead of managing my behavior to conform to the unspoken codes, he pointed out that transformation comes from the joy of knowing Christ and walking with him. A friend much later in life called this “dancing as a response to the music, instead of tapping and snapping because everyone else is.” For the first time in my life, the spiritual life “clicked.”

All this came flooding back when I read an opinion column in the last Sunday. The crux of the article was that all these child prodigies in the realms of academics, music, sports rarely became leaders in their fields as they slid into adult lives. They were well-adjusted (for the most part) and generally successful, but hardly world-changers. In short, they could play Mozart but couldn’t compose original scores. They could regurgitate facts but not new insights. They could win tournaments but usually gave up the games in high school or college.

So, what were the factors that produced world-changers, according to the article?

First, rules were extremely limited and only absolutely necessary. Adam Grant, the article’s author, said, “Creativity might be hard to nurture, but it’s easy to thwart.” The average rules for “ordinary” kids were six; the world-changers averaged less than one.

Second, they had the joy of the endeavor to get to their “10,000 hours” to perfect their skills. They had a natural curiosity about what they were doing and this took them beyond “ordinary” practice. These kids would go beyond routine discipline and make things fun for themselves…which often kept them from being “blinded” by routines.

Finally, they were nurtured by people who cared about them. Albert Einstein was quoted in the article as saying, “Love is a better teacher than a sense of duty.”

See, in my own journey to making my faith my own, it took someone to show me that walking with Christ wasn’t an everyday checklist to conform to unwritten codes or expectations or to make me look like I was “playing Mozart.”

It took someone to show me that I could joyfully do things my own way. That abiding in the Word and abiding in Christ didn’t have to conform to an early morning rigid structure (even if some of those elements were a part of that) and routine. I could design what “works” for me, and change things up if it gets stale.

It took someone to show me that an authentic relationship with Christ was a beautiful objective. That to truly live abundantly and point others to his kingdom is a natural outflow of his love for me.

In the words of my friend, I didn’t have to “tap and snap” anymore. I could just live my life as a response to the “music” I was hearing, even if that music is a little edgier than most folks like, but I didn’t have to lie anymore. And that phrase “the Way, the Truth and the Life” takes on a beautiful new meaning.

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