There are few things as boring as rocks. They just sort of sit there. So, how could anyone find rocks interesting, especially a 20-year-old film student? This was the challenge I faced in my junior year of college. I had recently transferred schools and, though I was in the film program, I still needed one more course in the sciences to fulfill my Gen Ed requirements. The problem was the only course that fit the bill and fit into my schedule was geology.
The study of rocks. Great.
I could have done the bare minimum and slipped by with a B or C. But I had determined when I changed schools that I was going to try my hand at being an A student for once. This wasn’t a problem in the film classes because I enjoyed them and, therefore, poured my heart into every assignment. Now I had to find a way to do well in rock class. But it was just so boring!
It was this challenge that led me to discover a trick to learning any subject—even ones you don’t care about. The trick is to be interested. Caring is the key to learning. I realized the reason I did well in my film classes was that I cared about the subject. So, I reasoned, if I could find a way to care about rocks, I could do well in geology, too. And it worked.
Even after finishing school, this method has repeatedly proven helpful in transforming any subject from a drag to a delight. Here’s how it works:
The Value of Interest to Learning
Though I stumbled across this little life hack on my own, it turns out there is a whole body of research that backs it up. Many studies in the educational field have proven that if a teacher can convince students to care about a subject, their grades will go way up. It makes sense anecdotally, too. Think back to your favorite subjects in school. Often, it’s a great teacher—one who is passionate about their subject—who helps us care about the topic and do well in class.
Even a hundred years ago teachers were observing and appreciating the connection between caring and learning. In 1913, Francis Lockwood published his book The Freshman and His College. In it, he makes a similar point,
“In the long run the secret of study resides in our ability to bathe our thought, our task, our lesson in the stream of interest.”
We can’t always rely on good teachers to make a subject interesting. Sometimes we must take it upon ourselves to baptize our studies in care.
The Psalmist seems to imply the connection between caring and learning as well. In Psalm 119:97 he writes, “O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day.” Love for God’s law shares an intrinsic relationship with the meditation on it. He cares about it so he dwells on it and mulls it over.
The Value for Christians
And, of course, this doesn’t just apply to students. Since the Christian life is a journey upward in terms of sanctification, and since sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in applying the Word of God to our lives, we are de facto lifelong learners. The Christian who is not growing in his knowledge of the Word is not growing in his walk with Christ.
How many Christians have a love for Leviticus, or Chronicles, or the Minor Prophets? We find them boring so we ignore them. How valuable it is, then, to learn how to make these inspired texts our delight that we might learn what the Spirit says in them!
And it’s not just the Bible we need to learn. Christians seeking to steward their lives well for God’s glory are not only students of the Word, but we are also lifelong students of our vocations. We want to love our neighbors and glorify God by being excellent craftsmen, preachers, writers, and homemakers. The only way to become excellent at our jobs is to never stop learning. But sometimes the subject we need to learn most is of the least interest to us.
It’s one thing to say “make yourself care.” But how do we actually do it?
How to Find Any Topic Interesting
It’s easy to learn something we are already interested in. But what about things that aren’t closely related to our interests? The key is realizing that everything is at least tangentially related to something you are already interested in.
After getting over the annoyance of having to take geology, I opened my mind to consider how knowing about rocks might possibly benefit me. Then it hit me: God made the rocks! Suddenly the diversity of each igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock was transformed before my eyes from mere scantron trivia to the beautiful handiwork of my Heavenly Father. The craziest hydrological and volcanic processes went from being illustrations in a textbook to demonstrations of divine wisdom.
Now, a subject which had nearly bored me to tears was a vibrant and exciting study. Learning about rocks was fueling my worship of the Rock of Ages.
And this can work for anything you need to learn but don’t necessarily want to learn. Just connect the uninteresting subject with something you already care about. And for Christians, the thing we care most about is God. Why did the Psalmist love God’s law? Because He loved the Law-giver. If you hate learning to bake, connect it to the joy of serving others through hospitality. If you are bored reading Leviticus, remember that it is the book that best explicates the holiness of the God you so long to know. And if you can’t bring yourself to read the manual for that new machine at work, consider that giving yourself to becoming an expert on that machine will enable you to serve your neighbor well, and glorify God with excellent labor.
Keep learning, keep growing, and keep cultivating your mind and spirit by finding ways to care about the work before you. Connect it back to that which is most important to you, your Lord. If you find a way to care, you’ll have no problem at all learning any subject.