It’s been a big week here in the UK. Unless you have been living under a rock, you will have by now heard that our beloved Queen, Elizabeth II, died peacefully at Balmoral on Thursday, after 70 years on the throne.
Her passing brought more than a few tears: I was indeed a big fan. She was an extraordinary leader and a woman no less; the likes of whom we shall be hard-pressed to see again.
Yet, even as her death brought much sorrow, it also brought a great deal of curiosity. For the very second she passed away, we had a new King; an exchange that hasn’t occurred in over seventy years. And so we find ourselves in a unique state of public mourning, with an undisguised element of excitement to boot. See, in an extremely rare turn of events, the UK had a new monarch, and a new prime minister- all within three days of one another. We just lived through a pandemic and on a personal note, just hosted a family fleeing war in Europe. We are living history and we know it. These are tragedies, all… but they are also the kinds of things our grandchildren will interview us about for their homework in years to come.
It is now. It is real. But already it has a glassy, Museum-cabinet sheen to it.
What a curious time to be alive!
On Monday, we reopened Toddler Group and as usual I sat down to tell a Bible story. In keeping with the mood of the Nation, I decided to go for a regal one this week: donning a tinsel crown, yanking a doll from side to side and unfurling the wisdom of King Solomon. See, upon coronation, Isreal’s third king was asked by God what he most desired? For anything at all he deemed fit for a king, God would willingly grant him. And so above all else, beyond anything on offer from the very hands of God, at the very start of his reign… Solomon asked for wisdom.
God was impressed.
“But what is wisdom?” I asked the tiny tots, who stared back as blankly as their parents.
Wisdom is… something I have been thinking about alot in recent weeks, truth be told. Wisdom is both the thing I have been chasing after, and the thing I don’t believe I’ll ever truly catch up with. (Though of course, this is not what I told my Toddler Group!)
In the book of Proverbs King Solomon advised, “get wisdom!”
But … why?
Because wisdom is more than knowledge. Wisdom is more than just being clever. Wisdom is deeper, higher, wider, longer. It’s not just brain, it’s also heart. It’s not just mind, it’s also spirit.
It’s where good intentions meet good practise.
And boy do I need some of that!
Recently, I realised that over the course of the past eight years, I’d developed several rather similar boundary-pushing relationships. I’d found myself in many comparatively complex situations; getting slightly older and wiser each time, but unable to put my finger on exactly how I was evolving, and where I was repeatedly going wrong. And so rather than quit all or plough on regardless, I decided to retrace my steps. To go back to what I saw as the beginning of this apparent phase, and see what kind of pattern emerged.
Well. At first I admit I was pretty darn proud of myself! Gosh, these journals were so full of wisdom, I thought someone ought to publish them! Then of course, I realised they already had. Rick Warren, John Ortberg, and Mark Batterson, to name but a few… all completely plagiarised and unreferenced in the frantic scribblings of a budding intercessor! (AKA Professional pray-er, I suppose.)
Still. I was, as humbly as I can manage, still pretty impressed with myself as it goes. For where I expected to find a trail of embarrassingly naiave stupidity, I actually discovered a legacy of good intentions, and a genuine willingness to learn the hard way. I saw myself walking – with open eyes- into situations that were already difficult; choosing to walk alongside people whom I knew, from the very outset, were going to be hard work.
I heard myself say yes to God, over and over again. I read theology that challenged my current attitude; inspiring conversations of surrender. I felt the beat of a heart that I’d love to get back… I read nothing that I regret.
That said, however, with space and time and slightly cynical eyes … I also saw exactly where the boundary issues came from. “No the wonder!”
I mean, accepting people without judgement, for example. Surrendering my own feelings and opinions in exchange for compassion, humility and mercy is a very good, Biblical intention. And yet… allowing people to continue in negative patterns of behaviour, without challenge or accountability, is not good practise.
Bearing one another’s burdens- treating another person’s problems– as if they are my own, is another good, Biblical intention. And yet… absorbing another person’s anxious thoughts to the point of anxiety? Reaffirming their position at the centre of every story? Not good practise.
And going the extra mile, giving your all to those without, is another good, Biblical intention. But giving more than is required or even necessary, to the point of having nothing left to give even the bare minimum to someone else? Not good practise.
Yes, I have to admit that if wisdom is the place in which good intentions meet good practise, then I am certainly not there yet!
Though, I am starting to wonder, is it even a place that we can reach?
For wisdom is not static. It isn’t about facts or equations, it isn’t even about religion. You could memorise every word of the Bible and draw it out in every situation, but still not be wise.
For the Bible is not static either. It might be a Holy, Ancient book, but I also believe it to be the living, breathing, active Word of God. Which is an awful lot harder to pin down and box in!
For wisdom is more than knowledge. Wisdom is more than memorising key mantras and sticking rigidly to them. Wisdom is learning how to apply the right knowledge in the right way, within the right context. And that changes just enough to keep us on our toes!
Wisdom needs prayer, it needs openness, it needs a willingness to be wrong and a desire to be more than simply right. Wisdom is full surrender to the ways and will of God, which is foolishness to those who are perishing.
Wisdom comes from above, it is revealed within, and more often than not, it is gleaned from without.
Wisdom waits. Wisdom listens. Wisdom prays. It asks questions, wrestles with answers, and doesn’t hide from uncomfortable truths.
For me, in this phase, wisdom is learning that perhaps “yes” isn’t always the right answer. It’s grappling with the freedom to say no, without trampling the Grace of God underfoot. It’s giving time and space to let this work in progress work its way out.
For I believe that wisdom is found in the very pursuit of wisdom itself; safe in the knowledge that God works all things out for our good. Not our good fortune, that is, but our good character. If we are open to learn, then nothing is wasted. If we are willing to grow, then nothing is without purpose.
This next phase for me is about probing the past, resting in the present, and pressing on towards the future; maintaining those good intentions with just a tad more wisdom than I had before.
To stay open, to stay willing, to keep on hunting for more.
God save the King!