Nothing is more inaccurately portrayed than wisdom.
I know this because, despite its incomparable benefits, it is advertised by the foolish as 'Boredom,' and it is perceived by the searching as 'Monotony.' Wisdom is broadcasted by the short-sighted as leading to a commonplace, ordinary, safe life.
Predictable, standard, traditional, normal, dull, stale, tedious, and uninteresting... perhaps it's just me, but these are the ideas that pop into my head when I hear talk of wisdom, discernment, and good judgment. Talk about lame.
I'm a thrill seeker. Always have been, and always will be. I don't prize wisdom as highly as I prize experience, newness, and excitement. I don't embrace good judgment like I embrace spontaneity, adventure, and novelty. I love uncertainty and I crave the unexpected twists and turns of a fast-paced life. I always want to be on the move, trying new things, and making memories for future storytelling purposes. I crave that buzz that exploration and discovery give me. I abhor the idea of normality and habitual living. I live for the heart-stopping moments. I breathe for the breath-taking excursions. I yearn for exhilaration and stimulation. For once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and the intoxicating rush that adventure brings.
These are my desires. I want to live a life that is full and meaningful and satisfying. And to me, those words have always been associated with thrill and adventure, not wisdom and maturity.
Historically, I've often thought of wisdom as a big old ball and chain. I've rolled my eyes in contempt and sighed at the impending boredom that comes with being 'mature' and 'sensible.' I hear talk of wisdom, and I imagine seat belts, curfews, helmets, and lifejackets. I hear talk of good judgment, and I think of lifeless routine, muscle-memory living, and nothing but the same old, same old.
So then, what am I to make of the Bible's teaching?
Proverbs has always scared me a little bit. I claim to believe that the Bible is true in its every word. I profess to live by its teaching and prioritize its truth. But then, I somehow have to come to terms with verses like these:
Proverbs 4:7 - Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.
Proverbs 3:21 - My child, don't lose sight of common sense and discernment. Hang on to them.
Proverbs 4:25-26 - Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path.
It's hard not to read these verses and yawn. It's like the frustration of a child whose parents tell them night after night, "Don't forget to brush your teeth!" "No staying up late- you need to get a good night's sleep!" "Eat your veggies- they're good for you!" I read the Proverbs and I secretly think to myself, "Yadda, yadda, yadda."
But there is a huge discrepancy in my thinking. I claim that the Bible is perfect truth, but I doubt the promises of Scripture. I claim that God's Word is perfect, yet I have trouble believing what He tells me about the value of wisdom.
Just the other day, I went through the Proverbs and decided to jot down a couple of the things written about wisdom. And instead of reading them with an attitude of skepticism, I read it as if every promise given were literal, absolute truth. And bit by bit, with every verse I read, my view on wisdom began to change.
I read that wisdom leads to a satisfying life (3:2). She leads to prosperity (3:10). She brings true joy and profit (3:13-14). She brings happiness and delight (3:17-18). She brings refreshment (3:22). She does not hold us back (4:12), but is the key to life! (4:13) She brings life, healing, and success (4:12, 22, 8:14). She leads to enduring wealth and justice (8:18). She earns us wages which are far better than gold or silver (8:19). She brings us pleasure (10:23) and gives us deep roots (12:3). She shows us where to go (3:6). She delivers honour (3:35) and greatness (4:8). And the kicker is found in 3:15:
She is greater than anything we could possibly want;
Nothing we desire can compare with her.
I read these Proverbs and I wrestle within myself. I don't want to let go of my enchantment with adventure. I don't want to put to death my childish fantasies of thrill and excitement. I don't want to grow out of my eagerness for exploration and my desire for discovery. It's all so fun! I love it all so much!
But it's time to grow up. And as hard as that is to do, it has to happen. I know I must live in reality, and I want to live in truth. I want to live with two feet planted in what matters. But that does NOT change the fact that it's hard. It's painful. It's wistful. It's a time for sighs and lumps in my throat.
It's like that day in the eighth grade when I decided to get rid of all my stuffed animals and toys. I had SO many. They all had names, ages, personalities, families, and histories. As a young child, I had played with them so faithfully. I had loved them so loyally.
But on that day in the eighth grade, as I looked at them all collecting dust on my shelves, I decided that it was time to grow up. I knew they weren't real. I knew they had always been nothing more than material, fluff, and stitching, but that didn't change how terrible I felt getting rid of them. I tenderly put them into big black bags to take them to the thrift store, and with each successful "Goodbye," I felt like I was betraying my lifelong friends. I was a traitor. I was willingly throwing away the special pals who had brought me so much joy throughout my childhood.
I had to force myself to complete the solemn task. It was a sad day. It felt a little bit like a part of me had been ripped out, and I had broken a very sacred trust. But deeper than that, I knew that I had grown up a little bit more. By getting rid of those relics of my infancy, I had taken another step forwards toward maturity.
Now, many years later, I no longer feel even the lightest bit of sadness or regret over that decision. I've never felt attached to an inanimate object since then. I've grown adept at purging my closet, never obsessing over possessions. Because I allowed myself to lay to rest that childhood fantasy, I have learned to watch belongings come and go without worry or trouble. Things are just things, and stuff is just stuff.
But now, I have different childish lusts that must be destroyed. No longer am I dealing with toys, but with values. Now it's time to be brave, and take the Bible at its word. It's time to recognize the juvenile desires I am housing, and confront the naive, youthful motives that I've lived by for so long. Where pride has been my companion, humility must take its place. Where excitement and fun have held top priority, wisdom and discernment must take over. Where my worship of adventure and beauty and experience has reigned, my fear of the Lord must invade.
But this is a process only God can complete. This business of spiritual growth and maturity is the work of the Lord in me. I can't bring it about for myself; I cannot make it happen. All I can do is follow His leading. When He shows me my flaws, it is my job to acknowledge them. To humbly ask for correction, to plead for growth. To let go of the reins and allow Him to change me. Only He can detach my heart from the temporal and fix it on the eternal. Only He can take my mind off of the fleeting and tie it to what matters. Only He can direct my focus away from the next 60 years, and towards the afterlife- centering on eternity, not finitude.
Proverbs 3:13-18 - Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the ones who gains understanding. For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. She offers you long life in her right hand, and riches and honour in her left. She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly.
This passage sure makes the case for wisdom convincing. It's quite unlike the view of the world which prizes shortsightedness and fun for fun's sake. But spiritual maturity is the way of the cross. It's painful growth which requires dying to oneself daily and pressing onward toward the goal, which is perfection.
Proverbs 3:11-12 - My child, don't make light of the Lord's discipline, and don't give up when He corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes each one He accepts as His child.
Hebrews 12:10-11 - God's discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening- it's painful! But AFTERWARD, there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
The excitement I seek and the adventure I crave cannot compare to the reward that wisdom brings. Resolving to simply trust the promises of Scripture instead of the world's advertisement of folly- that changes the game plan. Deciding to believe that the Proverbs aren't lying and that insight really will give me a meaningful life- that puts things into perspective. I want to cling to what's true and grow out of what is false.
Growing pains are called growing pains for a reason: They hurt. But I know that every time I've chosen to let go of childishness, I've only ever benefitted. Any time I've chosen to leave behind immaturity, I've never regretted it. And looking back over my life and seeing the benefits that living wisely and pursuing maturity have brought, the mandate of Proverbs 9:6 is beginning to look a lot less like glum monotony, and a lot more like fulfillment: