The first time I attempted an in-depth study of scripture on my own, without utilizing some form of Bible study workbook material, I was in my mid-twenties. I had felt a call to a specific area of study that came out of my first experience with fasting. Too timid to ask for help, I struggled alone to find resources or know how to start. I knew I was supposed to be “Reformed” but I also wasn’t sure what that meant. Mostly I was terrified that I was going to accidentally pick up something heretical. How was one supposed to figure out who was in their theological camp and who was out?
This is a true story, and it helps me think about what it means to be teachable now. First, I do demonstrate some positive characteristics: “ready and open to learn,” a blank slate of a heart, both an openness that was in response to the call of God that came out of fasting and an obedience to that call, and an overall eagerness. However, the two factors I lacked are significant: humility and a commitment to learn within the context of the Church.
While some may take my timidity to seek help on the surface to be humility, learning that these are not interchangeable terms was a breakthrough for me. I believe timidity is rooted in pride, an unwillingness to allow the true self to be seen. Afraid of looking foolish for my ignorance, I chose to hide my need in order to maintain an outward façade of being capable and independent. This timidity, then, leads away from community toward isolation, which is indeed a vulnerable place for a person new to faith. I sensed as much with my fear of accidentally becoming a heretic, but it wasn’t enough to compel me to truly humble myself by seeking wise counsel.
Personally, I see timidity—as hidden pride—as a major roadblock common to women concerning cultivation of a life marked by teachableness. This hidden pride is rooted in fear of being exposed. I suppose it could also be related to vanity, a fear of what others would think or a protection of one’s image. Women tend to seek permission before trying new things, whether through direct invitation or by witnessing other women already involved. When not personally invited or being able to point to another woman who has been, timidity is a strong temptation.
Being timid makes one less likely to follow the outworking of the call to be teachable and to also teach. Calvin was described as having “a natural bashfulness and timidity” that required some forceful words and the “divine bridle” to bring him into obedience to teaching rather than following “the inclination of his disposition” to living out a quiet academic life. This made me reflect on personality inventories, like the Birkman Assessment being used by CTS. Should the way of vocational fulfillment also be the path of least resistance? “The call of God, says Calvin, requires that a person completely die to himself so that the Lord may make ‘those who are nothing begin by his power to be something’.” If Calvin had declined those who would keep him in Geneva, telling them that he wasn’t well suited for the job, would his work have had the same impact?
Here lies the great tragedy of being unteachable: it impoverishes the community. Being unteachable robs the Church of the gifts given intended to meet needs in the body. This sobering truth and pursuing a humility that is not passive or timid are what have given me courage to come out of hiding. It’s a brave thing for believers to remain teachable in a world in which the “too dominant image is that of the self-made man or woman who can do it all alone.” I’m grateful for the “bridle of God’s providence” that led Calvin, and continues to lead in the way of humble obedience.
Aleah Marsden is an MDiv student in her final year of Calvin Theological Seminary’s distance learning program. She lives in Northern California with her husband and four children. For more of her writing and links to other published work visit: AleahMarsden.com or connect with her on Instagram or Twitter.