The Cost of Wisdom

Job 28:20-24 (New International Version)

20 "Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?

21 It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
concealed even from the birds of the air.

22 Destruction and Death say,
'Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.'

23 God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,

24 for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the sun.

Almost a decade ago, I was on my way to a wedding for an old friend. My mom and I had found the perfect outfit for the occasion along with the perfect shoes. She was willing to watch our two children so that Rob could board a plane with me and fly to the deep south from our home in Chicago. I knew I would be seeing many people I hadn’t seen in a long time. I couldn’t tell if the adrenaline coursing through me as we boarded the plane was from nervousness or excitement. It was definitely a mixture of both, I decided as we found our seats.

I had come with such great hopes of rekindling old friendships at the wedding. As I got on the plane to go home, however, I had sunk into a pit of depression caused by a raging inferiority complex. Before I left home, I had thought my life was great. Now I was playing a dangerous game of comparison with those I had just seen. I was convinced I was on the losing end. The question I had been asked fifty times by different people replayed over and over in my head:

“And, Shawn, what do you do?”

Um, okay, don’t panic! Let me think for a minute... How do I make changing diapers, wiping sticky faces and hands, and a non-existent paycheck for days of endless exhaustion sound scintillating and exciting to the PhD candidates that were asking me the question? Whether the look of pity on their faces was real or just in my imagination, my answer of, “I’m a stay-at-home mommy,” repeatedly made me feel like a loser. The conversation always got a little awkward at that point. The inquirer would bear with me as I told him/her my children’s ages and what their latest accomplishments were. When I asked the person in return what their life looked like, they started talking to me in a vocabulary I never knew existed. It was as though they were speaking a different language than me. Their intelligence seemed to ooze out of every pore. My brain felt like it was mush, used only to remember the words of the Barney theme song with my two and one-year olds. The only books I was reading were Dr. Suess and thick cardboard books about trains, tractors, and baby farm animals that were half-chewed from my children’s newly emerged teeth.

I used to think that wisdom equaled intelligence and a lot of book learning. Scripture could not disagree more. Living in Congo has brought me in contact with some of the wisest men and women alive on this planet. Yet many of them have never been to a higher institution of learning. Their wisdom has been hard-earned, much more difficult to attain than any learned degree gained at an Ivy League school. The School of Suffering is where they have earned their wisdom. They have been asked for many sacrifices, far more than working full-time to pay a college tuition. These sacrifices have been the lives of their family members, nights of being hungry, and the perseverance of someone who knows that wisdom is worth every bit of its cost.

No, you can have many advanced degrees and still lack wisdom. Case in point, my husband and I are on vacation in the middle of a utopian community. While he and his dad were playing golf, one of the foursome in their group pointed out a premium lot on the marsh that had an 8,000 square foot foundation being laid on it.

“See that house over there?” he asked my husband.

“Yes,” Rob replied.

“The woman of the house decided that she didn’t like the angle of the foundation on the lot, so this is the third time they have laid it down. The builders have had to dig it up twice to get it to her liking,” the man went on.

The home, once built, will be worth millions of dollars. But what is the true cost to its owner whose world is so small that she can only fit herself into it? Wisdom is superior, therefore, get wisdom, though it cost you all you have, get understanding (Proverbs 4:7).

Wisdom is available to everyone, regardless of income or intelligence, but it is only gained through having a healthy and reverent fear of the LORD and a knowledge of the Holy One. And the way He gives the wisdom that is able to sustain me through the deaths of my niece and nephew in the last nine weeks is through the crucible of suffering. The dross gets burned off and I can see clearly what is truly important.

Jesus, give me the perspective that suffering is a gift. Although it makes no sense to my humanness, You promise that from this pit of grief will come wisdom that is supreme to anything else I could ever hope for. You are the Potter; I am the clay. Let me never forget that.