Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae,
Who ate a monstrous whale?
She thought she could,
She said she would,
So she started in right at the tail.
And everyone said, “You’re much too small,”
But that didn’t bother Melinda at all.
She took little bites and she chewed very slow,
Just like a good girl should…
…And in eighty-nine years she ate that whale
Because she said she would!
That of course is the wonderful poet Shel Silverstein, reminding us of the importance of perseverance. We need to remember that we’re playing the long game. Jesus is setting off on a journey today we are told,…and if we choose to go with him…the road will be long, and winding, and narrow. And there will be plenty to trip us up. But there are no shortcuts. There are no quick or easy solutions.
And it’s easy to forget the long game, and get lost, and wonder if any of the good we hope for is even possible…the problems that we face seem pretty insurmountable. So today we get a reminder that while it is impossible for us…it completely possible for God; we simply need to continue the journey. Take the next step…the next bite…chew very slowly…do the work…commit to the practice…day by day by day.
If we do that, do you believe it is possible, or not?
Since moving to Brookline, and our kids have started attending Brookline schools, I’ve been learning from them about fixed mindsets and growth mindset.
A fixed mindset assumes that things like our character, our intelligence, our creative ability are all givens…just naturally present—you’re born with them. We’ve all heard this…She’s a natural athlete…He’s so gifted at cooking…they’re both so smart…We’ve probably even said similar things…This is a powerful belief.
I grew up believing that I was “not good at math.” That’s not true, I was good at math until I got to trigonometry and it got hard and complicated and I gave up. For years, I was in the “advanced math” classes, and as long as it was easy, I was “good” at math. As soon as it got hard, instead of working at it, my fixed mindset led me to conclude that I was “bad” at math.
Success, in a fixed mindset, essentially means avoiding failure at all cost. The author of this study says, “Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. […] Every situation calls for a confirmation of [your] intelligence, personality, or character.” I had a fixed mindset about math…I’m sure I still do about certain things. I notice it whenever I catch myself saying “I’m not good at something,” rather than admitting the truth that, “I don’t want to put in the effort,” or “I’m afraid to try.”
A growth mindset, on the other hand is based on the belief that our basic qualities can be cultivated if we commit the effort. Of course, we all differ in gifts: (aptitudes, interests and temperaments), but a growth mindset believes with practice and experience and over time everyone can change and grow…I’m never going to be great at math, I might not even be very good at math, but if I put in the work (even just a little bit every day) I can and will get better at math…the same is true of everything.
In a fixed mindset effort is a bad thing…because if you have to work at it, it means you’re not naturally talented. Imperfections are shameful…
In a growth mindset effort and even failure is positive because that’s what makes you smart and talented.
Melinda Mae probably has a growth mindset. So what kind of mindset does this rich young man have, do you think?
First, he comes looking for an answer (and remember, God is more of an experience than an answer), “What must I do?” (We should point out that there is nothing to “do” to inherit eternal life…it’s a gift freely given by God, and following the commandments…living Torah…is a joyous response to this incredible gift). So Jesus, answers his question with a question; but the man presses, and Jesus has compassion for him and says… “sell what you have, and give the money to the poor…” That’s not an easy thing to do, is it?
Luke is the only Gospel that says “sell ALL you have”—that condones voluntary poverty. Mathew and Mark do not, Jewish rabbinic sources do not, nor the rest of the Torah, because complete voluntary impoverishment creates a greater hardship on the whole community. Jewish teaching also does not disdain material possessions as long as they are “obtained legally, and used charitably” (Jewish Annotated New Testament, p. 36). But this poor guy apparently doesn’t know this, or forgets it, or simply believes that he can’t do it, and is not willing to work at it. So he gives up, and he goes away sad. He comes looking for an answer, and he gets an answer, but it’s not one he’s willing to entertain…I have to give up stuff?…I can’t do that…end of story. Fixed mindset. What if, instead, he had said, “wow, that sounds really hard, I wonder if I could learn how to do that? Maybe if I started with getting rid of just a few things…” Growth mindset. Maybe then he would have found a way to be on the journey with us, instead of turning away.
We’re in this for the long haul. And we need to cultivate practices, and persistence, and a growth mindset. All-or-nothing thinking will only trip us up. We need to remember that God’s reign is coming, that the arc of the universe is long, and that it will bend towards justice, but we have to do our part, we have to keep eating that whale, take the next step, and the next, continue to grow.
“The camel, I had noticed, was passing, with great difficulty through the eye of the needle. The Apollo flight, the four minute mile, Venus in Scorpio, human records on land and at sea—these had been events of enormous importance. But the camel, practicing in near obscurity for almost two thousand years, was passing through. First the velvety nose, then the rest. Not many were aware. But if the lead camel and then perhaps the entire caravan could make it, the thread, the living thread of camels, would exist, could not be lost. No one could lose the thread.” (Speedboat, Renta Adler, p. 51)
Hang on…keep going…don’t give up.