Struggle is the friend of learning

What do you do when faced with a new or unfamiliar task that turns out to be more challenging than you first thought? Do you dig in your heels, roll up your sleeves, grit your teeth, [insert your favourite idiom here] and stick with it until it bows to your superior might? Or do you find some more pleasant way of spending your time?

The second half of last week was one of mental struggle for me as I tried to figure out (a) how to get a piece of software to do what I wanted it to do, and (b) why it wasn’t doing what I expected it to do. To add to my frustration, I had a deadline looming. Good thing for me I’d read these articles, and knew to not to discount my struggling:

  • A Really Hard Test Really Helps Learning – “When we struggle to learn something, and fail, the moment we finally get the answer it imprints itself more deeply on our mind than it would have had struggle and failure not preceded it.”
  • Why Floundering is Good – “The more you struggle and even fail while you’re trying to master new information, the better you’re likely to recall and apply that information later.”
  • Struggle for Smarts? – “For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength.”

The thought that comes to my mind is whether this struggle is a product of the fall. Will the inhabitants of the new heavens and new earth have new intellects that will grasp everything at the first? Or will there still be learning curves? Or will there be nothing left to learn? I can only wonder…

How to read lots of books

It’s the fourth week of January, which means that not a few New Year’s resolutions are suffering from severe neglect. I long ago resolved not to make any resolutions, but to cultivate good and beneficial habits regardless of the time of year. Obviously, that isn’t a guarantee for success. For example I wish I could put myself out as an example for the title of this post…

Halfway through last year, I got all fired up over how reading for fifteen minutes a day could translate to 15 books a year. Since last week I’ve been taking advantage  of the increased traffic during my morning commute to read long form material, and that’s the closest I’ve got to my goal (and no, I’m not the one driving 🙂 ).

Think you don’t have time to read? Here are some practical pointers. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to read old books and keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through your mind. And finally, I understand that in some life stages, reading oodles of books just isn’t possible.

One way in which the gospel transforms us

As a young teen, my go-to choice of humour was sarcasm. Following advice from one of my brothers (who follows this blog, hi!) I tried to kick the habit, but picked it up again when I started attending a high school where we actively cultivated it  (we impressionable students were under the influence of a couple of teachers in the English department who had sarcasm and irony down pat). Sarcasm and I parted ways in recent years, and I always thought that it was because my brand of humour didn’t translate well into another language and culture. I may have missed the real driving-force behind the change:

One of the ways you can tell a person doesn’t get the gospel—they’re very religious, really know their Bible, big into doctrine—they don’t have a good sense of humour. Well, some years ago somebody said, “The way I can tell a Pharisee is this: they go around looking at people saying, ‘That’s not funny.’”

There’s another kind of humour, I would call it the relativist humour, which is very cynical, very sceptical, very bitter but also sometimes very cutting towards people they don’t like, which shows that in the end everybody’s self-righteous, even the so-called open-minded people. They say, “Oh, I’m open-mined. I hate bigots, I hate self-righteous people. I can’t stand them. I feel much superior to them. I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.”

And so the gospel takes that all away because the gospel makes you able to laugh at yourself, and it’s the only kind of humour that’s funny. It’s the only kind of humour that’s healing. And you can laugh at yourself without cutting. There are people who make fun of themselves and you can tell that they’re bitter, they’re upset, and they’re kind of into self-loathing. That’s not the gospel, of course.

As you know the gospel makes you not think too much of yourself or too little of yourself, it just makes you think of yourself less. Often because you’re full. You’re not worried, you’re not having to steal self-acceptance from what everybody else says, and as a result, what? Well, it means you poke fun at yourself but not in a way that you’re really trying to bring your own self down and you’re funny. You’re finally funny. Tweet that. I dare you.

Tim Keller, in a talk titled The Gospel-Shaped Life. (The above is an edited transcript of a sub-point of one his four points.)

A somewhat related post: Did Jesus laugh?

Don’t be shy to share your thoughts in the comments!

Pssssst! Want a free study Bible?

Yes, completely free.

You may be wondering what the catch is. As far as I can tell, it’s that the Faithlife Study Bible will probably never be available in print. It can be downloaded onto your iPad, iPhone or Android device, or accessed online at

I’ve had the Faithlife app for a little over 6 months now, though I used it more frequently back when I led Bible studies. Faithlife is aimed at a non-scholarly audience and its greatest selling point (pun intended) is its social aspect, which I haven’t had a chance to use. You can set up public or private groups  and share Bible verses, notes, reading plans, etc. amongst the members.

What I have used are the notes, maps and infographics that come with the study Bible. The package also includes photos and videos. The former I haven’t spent much time on and the latter have, in my experience, never worked.

Despite those glitches, I think it’s an excellent resource to have. So go on and get yourself one of the 2.5 million copies that are being given away!