Scattered pieces of tracing paper graced our home much like the misplaced or missing socks were also doing. My girl had traced the lines of many a princess. This wiggly little one could magically sit, all dolled up, under the spell of paper and pen. Looking back at tracings from two years before, I saw a big difference. The ability to follow a line and obey the shape had become stronger. Lines more refined, she had almost moved on to drawing these beauties from memory.
Tracing got me thinking of how we had grown in learning how to learn. I remembered when this little artist would feed helpless—tracing the lines of my face, studying my eyes. A minimum of 1500 times we sat down to give and receive nourishment and in the meantime, trace faces. She memorized early the curves of my nose and lips, the boundaries of my teeth, the sound of my voice. In those earliest days, I was teaching her, unaware.
What seemed to be years away, hopped right into my lap: the school years. It was time to start learning! The first day came with no big fanfare; I don’t recall the date, but there we were “doing school.” I felt the need for our schooling to be run by a published list of lessons on a specific timetable and I was tense. Learning wasn’t quite as fun as I’d thought it would be. There suddenly seemed to be a rush to get stuff done which went against the grain for my daughter, and yet that wasn’t my natural bent either. I didn’t really want to play it that way. Pangs of fear rose up in me. I cried on many days, and yelled on many others. All the same, I couldn’t quit. I kept hearing a faintly different rhythm calling me forward from the one bringing me fear.
Like a child learns to speak without much hustle and harrying, this is the rhythm I have had to learn and come to love. Memory must take possession of the basics of any area of knowledge. Memory needs repetition; it prefers the marathon over the sprint. Memory traces the path to wonder. I didn’t realize, once-upon-a-time, that our souls can and do trace the lines of creation, discovering its patterns in words, numbers, language, music, or even the curves of a princess hairstyle. I admit, it becomes more complicated than tugging mama’s earring while she feeds you or coming to the tracing pad dressed like Snow White, complete with crown; but when I neglect to approach the act of tracing more difficult lines of my imagination with this mindset, there is little room for joy.
Like a girl once grown too old for fairy tales now old enough to love them again, I had moved away from tracing and needed to grow old enough to do it again. I love C. S. Lewis’ words to his niece Lucy:
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it.
I found it was time to dust off an older approach to learning, one that was familiar and yet new. I had to learn to see a plan, perhaps even a pre-published one, similarly to a plan to feed a baby many times a day, with a quiet trust that all those times create a bond with the brain and a pathway to joy.
My girls may not have all grown old enough for tracing again just yet, but I have. So on weekday mornings we begin to trace words of Scripture with our eyes and voices in unison, or practice a hymn of praise to God. And they aren’t always there with bells on. The difference though, for now, is me. I know this tracing is important. These are not things I leave up to Google one day when they wonder about a verse or need to be reminded God is near. I know these things are best hidden in their hearts, as they have been in mine. I must not fret when it’s not the most fun thing for them to do. I know it’s not always easy, but I have realized it is simple—here a little, there a little. Before you know it, you’ve practiced, looked at, repeated something 1500 times and it has carved a path of familiarity. I need not reprimand them when they lack a heart that fully grasps the beauty behind the tracing when they’re too old for that stuff, yet not old enough. We have a God who knows our frame and understands. He knows even the most educated can really only trace the lines which He has set in place. We merely observe and ponder as we follow with our eyes and wait with our hearts for the beauty to fill in. In peace, I eagerly present my children with true things to trace, whether the fact is “2 + 4 = 6″ or “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” because I know another truth.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (I Cor. 13:9-12 ESV). We are fully known, but partial is our own knowledge and it will always be so in this world. We see dimly, as through the paper of a little girl tracing princesses who once were peasants. We trace, and trace, and trace, deepening the lines of truth, goodness, and beauty our God has drawn upon His world. All for us to squint upon, wonder at, and find.
We memorize to recognize truth when it meets us. We memorize because we can, from the moment we were first swaddled. We memorize because our minds can learn more with a mind mapped with familiar territory. We memorize because while Google is a friend, we may need truth to meet us while we are lost in the woods someday. It’s really okay if the lines are a little messy and keep showing up crooked, which may look like the square root of sixty-four just not sticking anywhere.
While we put childish ways behind, we must also become child-like again. Loving their innocent love of tracing lines and learning the simplest of facts, I am reminded I might as well pretend to get dressed all fancy and enjoy the work of tracing true things, understanding their beauty and purpose, looking forward to the layers of learning it can hold in the future, even if I do occasionally, or often, trip over my bells.