Even as a youngster I was observing older adults and listening for wisdom on what life was about; not that I’d have put it in those words. What increasingly stood out for me was just how little they really had to say, which was at odds with the theme of respecting and listening to our elders. The book of wisdom I grew up with, The Bible, mentioned this theme, with wisdom beginning with “the fear of the Lord” (Psalms). The details of how this developed into, you might say, a wisdom of life, were left largely to be inferred. Including the association between age and wisdom. In a tradition marked by literalism this inferring about wisdom became silence about wisdom.
Consequently, the older Christians I knew of spoke mostly about life events, rather than life lessons, and acts in which they “served the Lord”. These acts included full-time ministry, participation in church roles, raising a family well, missionary service, evangelism, feeding the hungry, alms – giving, formal patterns of prayer and worship, and so on. Without denigrating these acts specifically, they mostly failed to provide advice on relationships, problems with siblings, making choices in education and career, and so on. They failed to provide wisdom, described by theorists as addressing such life matters in a way that drew from a range of knowledge and experience. The acts themselves were evidence of the all important goal of loving God. That goal remains central to my life but now, as then, requires wisdom, not acts. At best I received (usually scriptural) platitudes, my grandma’s favourite being “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths”. While experience for me has evidenced this, the details have involved developing wisdom. Wisdom concerning what God seems to do, and what he doesn’t. The wisdom which my elders were largely silent about.
This pattern has continued to be seen in older Christians, just about everywhere I’ve been. When a woman walked into St John’s one Saturday morning seeking prayer, the official “elder’s” response was to metaphorically “holler for the minister”. Perhaps my upbringing of all believers being able to minister was different to the tradition in St John’s, but regardless, I sat with the woman, listened, and prayed with her. That seemed to be sufficient. The official elder had little to no idea, and frankly, I was shocked, if not surprised. No wisdom in the act, just a programmed action. Whereas I think I drew upon my experience and knowledge, and acted out of wisdom rather than programming. What Christian Internet sites and social media I’ve seen over the years tend to be acts and platitudes. These become talismans for people with some issue or other. Where’s the wisdom?
I hope as I get older I develop, and am able to write from, wisdom.