Reflections on Turning 30

“I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” Jer. 10:23

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Prov. 19:21

Maybe it was because of the New Year or maybe it was because of my rapidly approaching 30th birthday, but I decided to spend the month of January studying the book of Proverbs. I’ve always loved Proverbs, not only for it’s pithy practicality, but for it’s ground-level honesty. And I’ve lived enough life now to cross paths with every shade of fool, every sniveling scoffer,  every infantile sluggard to know that the book of Proverbs has the human race pegged. I’ve also lived enough life to have seen the fool, the scoffer, and sluggard rear their heads in my own heart. Because of this, I’ve learned that I need wisdom.  For that reason, I can I honestly say that it is the thing I most frequently ask God for in prayer.

As I was reading Proverbs this time, one thing I found myself thinking about was the idea of wisdom’s location.  Where can wisdom be found?  The answer of course is in God himself, which is simple enough, but in saying that we are actually saying something rather profound.  When Proverbs repeatedly tells us that wisdom is costly and more to be desired than gold or silver, the thing we need to get is that wisdom is rare.  But we need to get more than that.  This description also tells us wisdom’s location–namely that it is outside of ourselves.  Gold and silver are in gold and silver mines that must be explored and mined.  In other words, I am not a gold or silver mine.

That wisdom is not inherently inside of me is a fascinating reversal of most popular wisdom.  Many shelves groan under the weight of books that all say something to the contrary–the path to wisdom is within.   Another way to say it is with this gem of bumper sticker wisdom–Listen to your heart.  And I’ve got to tell you, I’ve spent some time listening to my heart, and it sounds a lot like a petulant child, a veritable Veruca Salt stomping and screaming for a golden goose.  My heart is a snotty, whiny, demanding, insatiable lump of pure appetite.  It’s  a two-faced trickster and master of sleight of hand, bent on talking me into all manner of nonsense and depravity.  And I’m not the only one.  If your heart had it’s uninhibited, unrestrained way for even 24 hours, you’d probably end up in a ditch or a jail cell. That is to say that I leave my 20’s less convinced of my own goodness, and more convinced of God’s.  And if that is that case, then if there is such a thing as wisdom, it certainly can’t originate inside of me.

Jeremiah put it like this–the way of man is not in himself.  We will never discern our paths by looking within.  We are not the source of wisdom.  I spent more than a small part of my 20’s, that precarious decade, shaking myself like some sort of 8-ball hoping that something useful might float to the top. The best I ever got was pseudo-truth and haze, like Dr. Phil, if Dr. Phil were high.  As I move into my 30’s, I realize that if I can get this insight, that the source of wisdom, and more than that, my identity is located outside of me, then I will understand at least two important things.  First, I will understand that I will always be prone to idolatry because I will always be looking to something to name me and to give my allegiance to.  Second, I must continually turn to God as the source of wisdom, as the one who directs my path because I’ll realize that I haven’t got a chance otherwise.