Central Idea: The gaining of wisdom may be our most important task in life.
“Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”
There was once a little boy who lived in a village. On his 14th birthday, he was gifted with a horse. Everyone in the village said: “How wonderful! The boy got a horse!” But the wise old man said, “We’ll see.” Two years later the boy was riding his horse and he fell off and broke his leg. Everyone in the village said: “How terrible! He broke his leg!” But the wise old man said, “We’ll see.” Then a war broke out in the land and all the young men go off to fight. But the young boy is unable to go because his leg is all messed up. And everyone in the village said: “How wonderful!” And the wise old man said: “We’ll see.”
Our first reading is about Solomon asking for wisdom of God. So I once asked the social media crowd, “What was the best and what was the worst advice you had ever been given.” It was actually pretty cool. Some talked about the wisdom of just living: “people should only have as much power as you give them.” Some talked about relationship advice: “Secret to a happy marriage: when you are wrong admit it and when you are right, shut up about it.” Some talked about parenting advice. “Remember you are raising adults, not children.” “Hold on to your babies as long as you want.” Some gave financial advice: Learn to live on half your income. Many of them were spiritual: “What would Jesus do?”
Surprisingly, some of my Facebook buddies are former students and parishioners of mine, so they quoted advice I had given them. Surprisingly, it was not the worst advice they had been given. One talked about a homily I had given at the funeral of her son. (That was very humbling.) One of my former parishioners quoted something that I say all the time: It is OK to have a pity party, you just can’t stay very late. One of my former students even quoted me a Latin phrase: Illigitimi non carborundum. Roughly translated it means, don’t let the jerks get you down.
The bad advice was pretty revealing. Most of it centered around doing something that looked like it would be fun, but wasn’t. (Taste this MD 20/20. Here, eat this. One won’t hurt.). Some of it was a twisted wisdom born of anger and defeat, usually about children. One of my buddies shared a truly bit of bad advice: Don’t tell anybody. If there is one thing that I learned in my sixty plus years of life on this earth, it is that horrible, abusive and destructive behavior thrives in secrecy and concealment. As one author put it: Solitude is the oxygen that gives life to repulsive behavior.
Almost everyone’s response was insightful and meaningful. But let me share with you three that stood out and touched me deeply.
One: your biggest complaint about others is a fault of your own. There’s bad news and good news here. The bad news is that it is often hard to see this fault in ourselves. We can notice it quickly and easily in others. It can drive us up a wall. But the truth is so often so difficult and painful that we fail to see it in ourselves. The good news is that if we give it a try, if we deeply examine why this behavior gets under our skin, we will most definitely find our blind spot, our deepest fault.
Two: Never ruin an apology with a “but.” I don’t know why but this bit of advice hit me like a ton of bricks. When I asked myself why, I was confronted by the fact this behavior drives me up a wall. (I know, I need to look at #1 again. Don’t remind me.) There was someone I knew who could apologize to me and somehow, in an incredibly twisted and devious way, I would end up feeling guilty. These non-apology apologies make things even worse. The bottom line is that when we do this, when we say, I am sorry, but, we are in fact playing is a game of one-upmanship, a game of getting the last word in. And this game rarely ends well. This bit of advice seems to be telling us that we would do well to say we are sorry and then just LET SOME THINGS GO
Three: Never pass up the opportunity to sparkle. OK, guys unless you are a vampire in the Twilight series, we may need to adjust one of my friend’s grandmother’s words of advice. Can we change “sparkle” to “shine”, or better yet “do your best?” I would definitely like for this to mean something other than draw attention to oneself. If that is the point, count me out. But, on the other hand, if it means to let your light shine, if it suggests that we do our best as we make our way through life, then this is an awesome bit of advice and wisdom. The difference between these two things is our intention. If it is only about ourselves, well sparkle away, but no thanks. But if it is about making the most of our lives, squeezing a bit more out of our talents, this is the very essence of our existence.
There were so many good ideas, I hated to limit it to just three or so, but we do not have all day. Droning on and on is not very wise. But may I suggest that you sit down sometime today and think about your own best and worse advice, the wisdom you have gleaned from your time here on earth. And then do your best to put that wisdom into practice, so that our world, which seems so foolish, imprudent, reckless and irresponsible may become a bit better, a bit kinder, a bit more thoughtful, a bit wiser.
As the wise man once said: We’ll see.