Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sharing Wisdom

I prayed for all my preaching friends on Sunday morning, as I do each Sunday morning, wishing I had words of wisdom to share with them. They don’t need my words of wisdom, but I feel uneasy if I’m not sharing words of wisdom, since I seem to have so many, and younger preachers seem to have so few.

That’s not true, of course, on either count. I don’t have wisdom just because I am old, and younger people don’t lack it just because they are young. One of the frustrations of old age, though, is wanting to share what wisdom we do have and finding that no one wants it.

I recall an older man in one of my churches. I’ll call him “Harry.” He thought he was the elder statesman and that whenever he spoke, that was the end of the discussion. I sometimes did not think his word was adequate as the last word, and so I would keep the discussion going. This bothered Harry, enough that he began to give me those “distant” signals that church people give, meaning he would not talk with me about his dis-ease with me, but he told other people in the church, and each year he led a movement to deny me a salary raise.

At one of those “no raise” church conferences, Harry was especially distraught because one of the younger men in the church, in his 30s, had openly opposed him. The next morning Harry was in my living room, bemoaning the lack of respect that younger people had for their elders, and presumably betters.

One fascinating part of that scene was that he still thought of me as his pastor. Even though he disliked me and my unwillingness to acknowledge him as the only wise person in the church, and just the night before had tried to deny me a salary raise, when he wanted to complain about others who did not adequately respect his wisdom, he came to me, and expected me to understand. He wasn’t there to apologize, but to get my sympathy.

I did sympathize with him, of course, in part just because I was his pastor, but also because I could anticipate that time when I would be in his chair, in his years, wanting to share wisdom and not finding many takers.

The traditional way to become wise is by making mistakes. I recall my uncle, Johnny Pond, when he was building his hardware store next to the grocery store of his brother, my uncle Ted, complaining that Ted kept telling him that one thing or another he was doing was a mistake, and that Ted knew it was a mistake because he had done it himself. “Yes,” said Johnny, “but I want to learn the same thing by making the same mistake.”

Listening to the wisdom of others is probably a more efficient method to learn, but it’s not how we want to do it. So I sit and watch younger people make mistakes. I could tell them how to avoid them, but the best lesson is the one you learn on your own. I’m sure that’s true, because that’s the way I did it, and I’m old and wise.

I don’t expect younger people to admire my wisdom. I keep my mouth shut. If anyone asks me for advice, I’ll gladly give it. Otherwise, I’ll commiserate with them when they learn the hard way.

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