She was so young, so naïve. Face smooth, laugh lines just beginning to form, and eyes pooling with tears as she wondered, “what shall I do?” Her good friend, Fear convinced her that no matter what she did, she would as easily be wrong as right. It might have been a parenting decision or the first major decision after becoming unexpectedly single that invited Fear to join hands with her. It could have been any of a thousand moments in the last 30 years. She only knew that she could not wait to be older, sure that then she would have the answers. She craved wisdom.
I wonder at the naivete of that young woman, eagerly anticipating the wisdom that would come in the years ahead. She was more concerned with knowing what to do and being right, about having certainty than she was about receiving wisdom.
She did not yet know that age posits wisdom as a question that mandates learning and reflection.
She did not yet know that often wisdom is brought on by difficult days of loss. She did not yet know that wisdom is not a solution, but the awareness of its’ absence. She did not yet know that wisdom arrives when we find ourselves standing, or kneeling, or prostrate with palms and heart pointed heaven-ward. “What? How? Where? Who?” She did not yet know that these are the tools of wisdom, and that waiting is its’ workbench.
This morning, I opened my multi-year devotional. Upon finding the day’s entry, I noticed that this was the entry for the day, seven years ago, when my then-husband uttered the words, “I have decided I want a divorce.” I had made a habit of highlighting important dates in my devotional that year. Periodically, I stumble across them now. I can barely remember the woman with the peach-colored pencil that circled the date, her face smooth from decades of relative ease, yet I can still feel the ground beneath her rolling, and the foundation of her certainty giving way. She had fearfully prayed for wisdom and frantically interceded for reconciliation for weeks, certain that she was praying in alignment with the sure will of God. Still, he uttered the words, “I have decided I want a divorce.”
As the guard rail of certainty in God’s will crumbled, rocks cascaded down the cliff, threatening to pull her along with them. With certainty gone, she had no map and no imagination for the new terrain. “What? How? Where? Who?” The question marks piled up, one on top of the other. It was then that her friend, Fear, rushed into the empty space where security had been.
If there was any wisdom on that day, it was the Spirit-led thought to open this devotional. There she would find no sure outline of the will of God, no concrete barriers for protection, no lightning bolts, no miraculous about-faces. There were only these words from God,
The beloved of the LORD rests in safety – the High God surrounds her all day long – the beloved rests between his shoulders. (Deut 33:12)
And also these words,
May you be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God. (Phil 1:11)
Wisdom had been spoken. There would be no doing, no decision that would bring wisdom, the Spirit seemed to say, only the knowledge that I rested in safety, surrounded by God. In this space, I was to seek Jesus Christ, all for the praise and glory of God. I had no confidence in my ability to navigate the desolate wasteland of the death of my marriage, but Jesus did. I had no goal set to strive toward as I navigated conversations with attorneys, and family, and financial advisors, but God did. I simply needed to rest in this truth, all for the glory and praise of God. Admittedly, easier said than done on many days.
That day, I took a breath and through tears laden with lament, anguish, and the tiniest seed of gratitude, opened my hands to release control, letting go of Fear. I also released the perceived control of my frantic intercessory prayers, Fear’s favorite tactic for the fearful – as if I could convince God what was best for me, my family, my former husband. In the days that followed, I would pray only, “Help!” and “Show me.” The days would come when I would once again pray, “Thank you.”
Many years later, I find myself still grateful for God’s words on that day. My old friend, Fear, would visit again and again trying to regain the upper hand. She still shows up often. Some days I send her away. More often, I invite her in and we take long walks together, we eat together, and we sleep together. Yesterday, we spent a good amount of time with each other. Today, these words nudged me to notice my hands, clenched and entwined with Fear’s. The words from Scripture reminded me again that I still rest secure in God.
So, loosening my grip, I walk Fear to the door. Again. Wisdom opens it to let Fear out, shuts the door firmly, and then walks me to the workbench and opens my hands to receive the What, How, Where, and Who while I wait. Today will be a day for “Thank you.”
Jill English is an avid encourager of humans and lover of words. She is most at home out-of-doors, and in particular, while walking any beach. Her most magical moments involve being Grammy to two remarkable grandchildren, and Mom to their lucky parents. As a discerner of call in higher theological education, her favorite conversations involve connecting the sacred dots of every-day life and faith. Jill lives in Grand Rapids, MI with two small, elderly pups.