Many of you know that last week I defended my dissertation for my PhD. This was the end of a five year process, made real when I was talking to the head of the PhD program just before my defense. I asked her how her twin sons were doing. She responded, “Great! They are just getting ready to begin kindergarten!” I reflected on the fact that when she taught me in the first semester of the program, she had just given birth to them. In that moment, it hit me how very, very long this road has been.
Over this week, I’ve been thinking about the past five years, and the things God has taught me about life along the way. It’s been five years, and I’ve learned a lot, so I’ve decided to break this into two parts. The first thing God taught me has to do with the “why”- why I even bothered working on my PhD? People have been asking me that for the past couple of weeks. I don’t really need it to keep working here. My gracious board hasn’t required it. I’m not planning on going anywhere else, unless that same gracious board or God deems otherwise. It’s really not about being called “Doctor,” or the status associated with a PhD (as if there was any status associated, anyway). It’s certainly not for the big pay raise. So, why? I think it’s important to share the answer to that with you, because I think it has so much to do with what we do here at Grace, with gaining knowledge and the education process.
In our country, and I’ve seen this reflected in our school, we tend to look at education in pretty utilitarian terms. The first question any high school kid asks about a concept or issue he’s learning is, “Why do we need to know this?” In other words, how is this going to help me in life? In some sense, it’s a reasonable question. Knowledge should have meaning, and purpose. But, what we tend to assume in our culture is that it must have utilitarian purpose- in other words, in order to be knowledge worth having, it has to help me succeed in college, or in my future job, or in my social life. In other words, I have to be able to use it, like a tool.
While utilitarian knowledge is important, it’s not the sole reason for the education process, probably not even the primary reason. I think we forget that. Education is much more of a process than a goal. The real reason for education is to form our hearts, our characters. It’s about training us in the right ways to think and to live: What constitutes the good life? What is the ultimate meaning of life? What does it mean to live well? How can I mold and shape my heart and my life to think and feel about things of life in such a way that they allow me to work towards the common good, and love my neighbor and my God? That’s the real purpose of education. Most of what I studied for the spelling or the math test I’ll forget. Dates probably won’t stick with me; but, how I think, how I feel, the meaning I attribute to life and what is good, will stay with me the rest of my life.
That’s the beauty of being a lifetime learner, and why it’s so important that we never become too old to learn. The formation of our character, our minds and our hearts, what Paul in Romans 12 calls “being transformed by the renewing of our minds,” is not a “one and done” process: it’s an ongoing, lifetime process. While pursuing my PhD, I learned a lot about leadership through the ages, a lot of theory, and a lot of practical knowledge. More importantly, however, the process formed my heart and my mind in what it means to be a servant leader who loves you and loves Jesus well in ways I’ve never before experienced. I am a better man, a better lover of Jesus, and a better head of school now than I was five years ago. That’s why I did it.
It was really, really hard. I’ll talk about how it was hard next week. But, there’s a quote by Bernard of Clairveaux that kept coming back to me time and time again, an idea that motivated me throughout the journey, and served as my great “why”:
“There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity.
There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity.
There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.”
I prayed that I would always be motivated by love of God, and love of you. I really don’t think I could have finished any other way.