The Ways of Wisdom
Both of my mentors were intelligent men. Both had PhDs. Both were distinguished professors at prestigious institutions. Yet it was not their intelligence or education that impressed me most. It was their wisdom.
I always wanted to place myself in an environment in which I could become wise. Little did I understand that most wisdom cannot be planned. In fact, what wisdom I have has come from things I tried desperately to avoid. Most of my wisdom has arrived on the heels of suffering and failure. Unless you are some kind of masochist, you do not seek these things. You do everything in your power to avoid them. Yet there are lessons that can be learned only after falling flat on your face, and there is wisdom to be gained from the kind of existential suffering we all experience.
In my six decades I have been amazingly blessed. I have also experienced suffering, as we all have. I have shared many of my blessings with you. I prefer to keep my suffering private. To be healed, secrets usually need to be revealed. Much suffering, however, is not secret. It is just private.
Through suffering I have become more loving and more human. Deep communion and compassion is formed more by shared pain than by shared pleasure. I believe it is one of the reasons God allows suffering, so we may learn to love more deeply.
I have also failed, significantly, more than once. My failures are an open book for all to observe. Nevertheless, I have been blessed to discover that my failures became fertile ground for great growth. As Antonio Machado has written, “I dreamt . . . I had a beehive here inside my heart. And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures.”
I have learned that failure is not the all that ends all. It is a very effective teacher on the way to a deeper life. It is where we learn to risk and gain the paradoxical strengths of confidence and humility. As Frederick Buechner says, through failure we gain the eyes to see grace bubbling up through the bedrock harshness of things. We come face-to-face with our humanity and God’s mercy.
I pray that as life continues to have its way with me, I will graciously accept the failures and necessary suffering that come my way, and look forward to the white combs and sweet honey they spin in the chambers of my heart.
And so it goes.