Ecclesiastes 1:18 – For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
When I was in college, I remember wanting to be wise. I remember praying repeatedly for wisdom. Things were happening in my life that I didn’t understand, I had feelings I didn’t understand, and actually becoming a functioning adult seemed seemed so out of reach to me. I remember fervently praying for wisdom.
As the saying goes, be careful what you pray for.
Now, I’m not claiming to be a sage, old and full of knowledge, but I would say that I do know a lot more about life than I did then. And, I do think that I have achieved some level of wisdom. There are people in my life who say and do things that I don’t agree with, but now I frequently can see why they would say and do those things. There have been people who have criticized my words and actions without knowing why I said and did what I did, and their criticisms, while un-Christianly given and at least partially undeserved, have taught me lessons about myself that have hurt but will be useful to know in the long run. There’s always a reason why people say and do what they do, and once you understand what that is, it makes everything much clearer.
I’m married to a man, a good man, who doesn’t always say what I want him to say or do what I want him to do, but what he does choose to say and to do often indirectly teaches me lessons as well. I love this man, and I also respect him (sometimes grudgingly) for often teaching me things that I didn’t realize I didn’t know. I want to boss him around, you see, and it annoys me when I realize that he is right. But, when he’s right and I’m wrong, I can’t help but respect him for standing up to me.
I’ve also learned to respect the fact that he’s different from me and does things differently than I would do. It doens’t mean one way is worse than another, it just means he’s different. And, I’ve learned that there is more than one way to, as the saying goes, skin a cat. 😉 My way is not always the Only Right Way, and that’s a humbling lesson to learn, too.
But my husband and I don’t always butt heads. Sometimes we see eye to eye. Sometimes he asks me for my thoughts and advice, and sometimes he even takes it! Sometimes other important people in our congregation ask me for my thoughts, and once in a while they even say, “Wow, Emily, that’s a really good point. I never thought about that before.”
Last weekend, someone important in our congregation asked me my thoughts, heard my thoughts, and then called me “wise.” I couldn’t help but glow in the light of that compliment for a while.
But, like the Bible passage I quoted at the beginning says, with much wisdom comes sorrow, and the more knowledge, the more grief.
It’s really, desperately hard for me when I see people saying and doing un-wise things. I want to sit them down and look right in their eyes and say, “Do you realize what you’re doing? Do you REALLY realize what you’re doing? How far have you thought this through? What effects do you see your actions and/or words having down the road?”
And yet, one can’t often say that kind of thing. To be able to say that requires trust and confidence and more trust. Lots of trust. And trust either takes a relationship or letters behind your name (such as a counselor or a psychologist). Plus, I’m a Pastor’s Wife, so that can put me in an even more awkward position when I’m talking to people in our congregation. As Pastor’s Wife, I’ve found that either people are instantly inclined to respect you, or they’re instantly inclined to be suspicious of you.
But it is so, so incredibly hard for me, to see people doing things that are only going to cause them problems in the long run, especially when those problems are theological ones. Because there’s not much I can do except pray for them. With wisdom comes sorrow, and with knowledge comes grief. There are many people whose lives have come into contact with mine that I KNOW are doing stupid things. I so desperately want to tell them what they’re doing wrong, not because I want to be right, but because I don’t want them to have to suffer down the road. I’m truly not looking for personal accolades and glory (although I did appreciate that unexpected compliment), because I know it’s not about me. I just want to help, but not everyone wants to hear that what they’re doing isn’t wise. So, the words I don’t say end up eating at me, and I suffer for the other person, who never knows that I suffer for them.
I don’t know if that’s the kind of suffering that King Solomon had in mind when he wrote that verse in Ecclesiastes, but I suspect it might be. Wisdom always, always comes at a price. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said something to the effect of, “Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn.” It is all of these difficult experiences that are the biggest bearers of wisdom. There have been plenty of difficult experiences lately, and I’ve learned a lot from them.
I’ve had a lot of experiences since first praying that dangerous prayer for wisdom in college, and I’ve gained a lot more wisdom than I had back then. I hope God will take this wisdom that I’ve gained and help me know how to best use it for the good of his kingdom.