I’ll Take Your Experience Over Mine

When I was young and pleaded with my mom to do something she knew was a bad idea, her response would ultimately be this: “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you, too?” As a parent myself now for more than 20 years, I don’t recall ever saying those exact words to my kids (at least not in a serious way), but I’ve certainly expressed the sentiment. Based on my life experience, I often wonder why I insisted on learning the hard way when I was young. And I’ve wondered why my own children have that same desire from time to time.
Then I think back on my years in youth ministry, where one of my primary goals was to motivate teens to learn from my mistakes, as opposed to going out and making them on their own. Some kids seemed to heed that advice; others didn’t. The ones who succeeded are likely much more indebted to their parents than to me.
We all seem to struggle, to one degree or another, with the problem of finding out things on our own, of learning the hard way, instead of trusting someone older than us who’s been there and done that. I can’t remember who said it, but the words have stuck with me for many years now: “Experience is not the best teacher; it’s the most expensive teacher.” That refers, of course, to our own personal experience.
A wise person, however, learns from the experience of others. I really don’t need to make all of the mistakes myself to learn the lessons of experience. I don’t need to jump off a tall building (or cliff, as mom would say), to know for sure that it will badly injure or kill me. I don’t need to drink and drive to understand the terrible danger it would cause for me and others.
When it comes to moral and spiritual issues, though, I don’t always find it so easy to avoid stupid choices, even though I know the negative consequences will come. Maybe I do this because the consequences are not typically immediate, as in the case of cliff jumping or drunk driving. But I could argue that the effects are even more damaging, and more lasting, potentially extending to my eternal destiny.
Ultimately, I believe the answer lies in what I mentioned earlier: trusting someone who’s been there and done that. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). We can learn from the experience of Jesus because He lived through all of the same struggles we do. And we can learn from Him because he never gave in to temptation. I’m not sure about you, but I’ll strive every day to take His experience over mine.
Troy Burns