LEARNING WISDOM THE HARD WAY
By DANNY MINTON
Have you ever done something stupid? I mean something you can look back on and say, “I can’t believe I did that, it was so dumb!” Be honest, look back in your past and relive that event as painful as it may have been. Painful is the word that describes one of the dumbest things I ever put to the test.
I was about 8 or 9 years old at the time. In our backyard, we had this old-style swing set. You may remember the ones from the ’50s. It had two swings and on one end was a seesaw. It was the old style with rods that went up the center into a bracket that was attached to the top support bar. My brother and sister were on the see-saw going back and forth, and I was on the crossbar watching it go left and right.
Okay, here is where stupidity steps into the picture. In fact, you may want to skip a couple of paragraphs and move on to the point of this lesson. Back to the swing set and seesaw. I’m standing on the side of the set watching the poles go back and forth in the channel at the top. Did I tell you I was only 8 or 9 and curious? As I’m watching the seesaw go slowly, moving one direction and the other, my attention goes to the bar going back and forth. My mind wonders. Don’t forget this was a long time ago when I was very young! My mind wonders what it would be like to stick my finger in the groove where the bar is moving back and forth.
I’m not sure why I thought of this or what made me want to attempt the experiment, but as the saying goes, “no guts, no glory!” So, I stuck my finger in the slot as the seesaw moved toward my sister. Fact: The law of nature says that if a seesaw goes right at some point, it will come back left. My reflexes were not fast enough as the seesaw following its course change proceeded back left with my finger in the slot. I am fortunate that my siblings were not going very fast and the doctor was able to save my finger.
We all have done “stupid” things in our lives. Have you ever wondered why we can always remember the dumb things we’ve done and often forget the good that we’ve accomplished in our lives? Our minds tend to keep track of those moments that we would like to forget. Those “stupid,” embarrassing,moments in life that we wish would go away seem to linger in the back of our minds.
I think Paul had one of those moments. He called it his “thorn in the flesh!” No one knows what it was that he carried around with him, but he wanted it gone for sure. Some think it was physical. I have an inkling that at least one thing he carried around was how he had persecuted the Christians before his conversion. Or maybe it was his conflict with Barnabas over John Mark. Whatever it was, it haunted him throughout his ministry, yet God would not take it away.
Maybe God doesn’t take those moments away from us because he uses them to help us grow. As another old cliché goes, “we learn from our mistakes!” You know, I never stuck my finger in the seesaw again. In fact, my entire life has been seesaw free! I add that to the list of other stupid things I’ve done that I have overcome from experience. Most of our mistakes now faded and forgotten by others, remain in our memories as lessons learned.
Up until now, I’m the only one who remembers the seesaw incident. Now you know. That’s okay though because I hope you learn from me never to put your finger where it may be cut off! I’m telling you from experience. If we pay attention, we can learn from other’s mistakes. We can be wiser in life by listening to those who have gone down paths we have not yet taken. We listen to people who’ve walked the path, not because people are smarter than we are but because they’ve been there before and know what lies ahead.
It’s like the old joke of three preachers from different religious groups who had gone out fishing. Two of them had been before and invited a younger one along. They take their boat a short was from shore. In a bit one of them says, “I’m cold, I think I’ll go get my coat.” He then steps out the boat and walks to the shore and returns. The younger preacher is wide-eyed while the two older men continue fishing. A little bit later the other older preacher speaks up, “I forgot the coffee, I’ll be right back.” He steps out of the boat walks to the shore and returns. Again, the younger preacher is wide-eyed. Not to be outdone he later says, “I’m hungry, I’ll be right back.” He steps out of the boat and immediately sinks and struggles to get back in the boat. “Sorry son, one of them said. We should have told you where to look for the rocks!” They’d been there before.
Wisdom comes from listening to those who have been down the road. It comes from those who know where the rocks are in life, the safe paths to follow and where the pitfalls may come. Sure, now and then we’ll do something stupid, but when we do, we can pass our wisdom on to the ones who follow. Oh, there are days when I feel like the wisest man alive, remembering all the stupid things I’ve done in the past. Things that I know I have the wisdom to pass on to anyone who finds themselves watching a seesaw, or ways not to use matches, or playing games with pocket knives, or, well you get the point!
Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ