Doing the dishes is one of my spiritual gifts. There aren’t many things I believe I’m excellent at, but the dishes are one of them. Efficiency. Stacking the drying rack. Maximizing space in the dishwasher. You name it. If it’s in the realm of dishes, I’ll happily label myself more than proficient. Yet, even MJ had lousy shooting nights.
About a month ago, I was doing the midday dishes (as is my habit), and I found out I (still) have great reflexes, but I also realized that my wisdom could be improved upon. And great reflexes plus limited wisdom will equal bad outcomes.
Let me set the scene: it’s days after our third child has been born, which means we’re all running on a full 4 hours of sleep a night. I’m here washing a large knife and intricately stacking a drying pile because this is just what I do…then the knife falls off the pile. My reflexes told me to catch it, so I did. But if I weren’t just listening to my reflexes and instead yielded to common wisdom, I would have let the knife fall. Because wisdom says, it’s easier to clean the knife again than heal the gash catching it will cause. But I caught it, it cut me, and I’m pretty sure I’m wiser for it.
It’s been said that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But we all know that if wisdom were that black and white, then life would simply equate to only needing to know the right things. It would say things like: if something is falling, you catch it, whether it’s an egg or a knife. If it were that easy, wisdom wouldn’t ever involve nuance. But you and I both know that life is largely lived in nuance. It’s not all black and white, so we must seek to move past knowledge to find true wisdom which will help us navigate the gray.
You see, wisdom involves knowledge, but it’s far more than that. Wisdom is knowledge in action. Or I should say, wisdom is knowledge in right action. A classic example is my favorite set of proverbs. In Proverbs 26, we read, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself” (v.4), immediately followed by “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (v.5). Wait, what? Well, which is it? When someone is being foolish, am I supposed to engage or not? Proverbs says the answer is, “it depends.”
See, there’s a fool who won’t listen at all, and when you engage him, in the long run, you’ll only find you’ve become the fool yourself. But there’s another type of fool that will listen to correction, so you’ll want to answer that one so he doesn’t mistake his folly for wisdom.
Simple knowledge can’t engage here. Knowledge will have you either engaging the fool or dismissing him and doesn’t function in the space of “it depends.” But “it depends” is wisdom’s playing field. This is the gray of life. Wisdom operates where simple knowledge sees a contradiction.
A hammer that sees everything as a nail can’t engage in this nuance. A person who only has knowledge and not wisdom will have one reflex—catch everything—and end up with a bunch of bloody cuts because of it. But if you’re willing to be patient, prayerful, and really persistent with your life and those in it, then you’ll find room for wisdom. God will give you wisdom in abundance if you ask him (James 1:5), and that wisdom will both save you from making mistakes that can be easily avoided and act rightly when the gray of life seems to offer opposing options.