This series I’m writing is based on a simple idea: Each day, I’m going to wake up, pray and read in Proverbs with “parenting eyes.” Then I’m going to blog whatever comes to mind. This could be brilliant or an epic failure. But that’s the plan. Today, I read Proverbs 3: 13-35.
Please tell me you’re familiar with Malcolm Gladwell.
The short version is that he’s authored several books that wound up on the New York Times best-seller lists.
The longer version would involve telling you why he’s on those lists. I don’t want to dive too deeply into that because it’s not really what I want to talk about today. He’s popular because he sees the world a different way. His ability to think outside the box is what sets him apart. Actually, it’s his ability to be blind to the idea of there even being a box is what sets him apart.
One observation that has been well-noted outside of his readership is his “10,000-Hour Rule.” He noted a well-known computer code pioneer who spent more time in the computer lab in his younger years than his counterparts. He noted that musicians who increased practice habits over their teen years against peers. He noted chess players who were better than others they started with.
What he discerned was that “good” computer writers, or musicians, or chess players all started with the same amount of “practice” as the “great” ones…but when they hit late teens the ones that practiced a few more hours weekly separated themselves from the herd. He noted that those who were “good” at their craft logged about 8,000 hours of practice. The “great” ones logged about 10,000. The issue wasn’t whether or not the “great” ones were smarter or had more talent, but rather they simply practiced more of their craft than their counterparts. Gladwell simply noted that when it comes to seeing 20-somethings who are great:
10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness…The other interesting thing about that ten thousand hours, of course, is that ten thousand hours is an enormous amount of time…most people can reach that number only if they get into some kind of special program–or if they get some kind of extraordinary opportunity that gives them the chance to put in those hours.
He spent the rest of the chapter looking at two examples of greatness we’d all relate to: The Beatles and Bill Gates. The Beatles spent 7 years in relative obscurity, even playing multiple sets in strip clubs before they came to America…8 hours per day (which these strip clubs needed), for 7 years. Even if some days were half that, they’d hit their 10,000 hours. By 1964, they’d performed live nearly 1,200 times. Bill Gates? His parents put him in a private school in 1968 and he was programming in real-time as an 8th grader. That’s in 1968, mind you, when computers were rare. By the time he was in college, he’d already been putting in 8 hours a day in high school hanging out at the University of Washington 7 days a week writing code nights & weekends. He’d easily put in his 10,000 hours by the time he dropped out of Harvard.
Whether you buy into the full 10,000 hours theory or not, there’s no denying the importance of repetition in proficiency…even if the examples seem simple.
I once had a student ask me why I painstakingly reviewed previous lessons each week in our small group. Why not just dive into this week’s lesson? I asked him to outline the book of the Bible we were studying and he zipped through it without thinking. Then he said, “Oh, now I get it.”
At one time our church had a teacher who used the same illustrations over and over and over to describe the spiritual life. To this day, if you talk to people who attended the church during that time frame, if you ask them if we should avoid “tappin’ & snappin'” or what good a “pen without ink” is, well, they can tell you why it’s important.
Athletes or marching band members or musicians or military units all use repetition as a vital teaching method. Generally, they don’t want you to overthink your actions but rather to react and do it well without thinking about it.
And I wondered why, when I read today’s passage, the author spent yet another significant length of time on why wisdom is so important and what the benefits of pursuing it are. But on and on the author went:
The wisdom seeker is at peace with God. It’s better than silver & gold. More precious than jewels. Riches and honor are part of the benefits package. It’s like a tree of life. The foundations of the world and heavens are built on wisdom. The give life. Grace will adorn our neck. We won’t have to be fearful if we’re wise. We’ll rest easier. We don’t have to worry about the same disasters that afflict the wicked.
And again, this pursuit of wisdom affects our relationships and how we behave towards other people. We’re supposed to apply wisdom in our interactions with others in varying ways.
So, when I read the remainder of chapter 3, I have a tendency to yada yada yada over this section. Haven’t we been over this in chapter 1? Haven’t we been over this in chapter 2? I thought we were headed in a different direction here in chapter 3, but nope. Again? Don’t we have it by now? Seriously? Yes…
…wisdom is highly valuable.
…not living by wisdom can lead to all sorts of negatives.
Yada yada yada.
We got it already.
Ah…that’s precisely the point. Repetition drives the point home so we can’t forget it. Sure we might not remember the type of jewel or what kind of necklace we’d wear or any number of specifics, but we get the vital point: There are two ways to live, either wisely or foolishly, and they both have consequences.
It’s the same way in parenting.
Our kids rarely “get” the lessons we’re trying to teach them on the first try. Like trying to teach a 15-year-old to drive. We start out by showing them which key on the key ring fits the ignition. We teach them which pedals are which. We teach them which buttons do which function, from radios to windshield wipers to blinkers to climate control. We teach them which dial shows them their speed and which one the engine’s RPMs and the meaning of the “idiot lights.”
The first time they get all excited to take a spin in the empty church parking lot when they’re 14 or whatever, well, it takes FOREVER to even get the car started…and even then that horrible sound happens when they try to start an already started car. They have trouble easing up to speed and stop too abruptly. It took us 5 minutes to get a first-down in the car and we didn’t do that well. And don’t even get me started on driving around the church parking lot to the streets home to driving in the rain to highway driving to interstate driving. There’s a reason a learner’s permit takes about a year to get, man.
Two years later, the kid can carry a bunch of packages to load in the trunk, talk on the phone, start the car, adjust the mirrors and latch into the seatbelt, change the CD, back out of the driveway and get going smoothly and they never even stopped to think about any of the things they thought about the first day. Repetition certainly pays off with some level of efficiency…and that same idea works well into adulthood with driving. We’re generally much better drivers in our late 20’s and early 30’s, which is why car insurance rates drop sharply at age 25.
But you have to have to view repetition as vital to the parenting process rather than an annoyance that kids don’t seem to be “getting it.” Whatever the “it” is, we usually find ourselves going crazy that manifests itself in the phrase, “How many times do I have to tell you…?”
Well, the answer, simply, is “At least one more.”
Dr. Henry Brandt (who wrote a parenting book I highly recommend entitled I Want To Enjoy My Children) spoke at our church once and during the Q&A portion of the evening a parent asked him “How many times do I have to tell my child to take out the trash before they start doing it on their own?”
His answer, “My wife and I had a similar problem when our child wouldn’t make the bed each day without being reminded. He still lives in our home and still doesn’t make his bed every day without being told, so my answer is ‘at least 19 years and counting.'”
But he told the truth. God uses repetition with us to get the point across. So we might want to adjust our expectations and be prepared to use repetition as we teach our kids…and do so in a way that manifests the fruit of the Spirit.
It’s an important tool in parenting, folks. Over and over again. For at least 10,000 hours until we get greatness.