Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Testimony, Part 3 - Wisdom & Joy

“O LORD my God… I am like a little child who doesn't know his way around.” [I Kings 3:7 NLT]

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children,
you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.” [Matthew 18:1-5 NIV]

Last week, I promised to explain why I was so much younger than my classmates and able to spend an extra year of high school in France. First, my October birth date allowed me to start school on the young side of the year. In addition, my mother co-founded the first Montessori school in the Washington, D.C. area – as her oldest child, I was one of the first students at that school. Maria Montessori [1870-1952] taught, among other things, that children have an amazing capacity to learn during their first six years of life; so, nine years before Sesame Street came to television, I was introduced to foreign languages and learned to read at the age of three.

I played with button and zipper frames and other Montessori-designed materials originally developed in her Children’s Houses, which taught preschoolers to care for themselves and older children to help with the younger ones. Montessori encouraged guided learning and self-motivation - the teacher helped only when the child really needed help. Now I’m not knocking Dr. Montessori or my mother, both of whom no doubt had very positive intentions for child development; but I also can't help noticing how convenient this type of learning might have been for the oldest of six siblings in a busy household!

When I started Kindergarten in 1962, I was 4 years old (almost 5). While the other children were playing with blocks and toys, I made a beeline for the bookshelf and read all the books in the room by mid-October. So the teacher met with my mother and the principal, and – just as I turned 5 - they put me in first grade, where the class was just beginning to read. A year and a half younger than my classmates and not having been present for instructions given in September, I tried to follow how things worked in the classroom – for example, when the kids lined up to get milk for lunch, I got in line with the rest of them.

This worked OK until one day there wasn’t enough milk to go around, and the teacher loudly accused someone of taking milk who wasn’t supposed to. I didn’t know that parents had paid for milk at the beginning of the year, and up until that day there had always been an absent student whose milk went to me. The teacher was sorry she’d embarrassed me so publicly, but I continued to feel as if other people knew what was going on better than I did until, as a Christian adult, I realized that apart from God’s wisdom most people more or less guess their way through life on a daily basis.

There's a big difference between knowledge and wisdom, and neither replaces our inborn human need for love and joy. In retrospect, I think that until I came to know God and follow Him, my life was like a beautiful jigsaw puzzle with the pieces all mixed up. Incredible gifts and opportunities were mixed with deep feelings of loneliness, pain, insecurity and confusion. (See previous postings on 8/17 & 8/24 for background.) After I returned from France, my desire to excel academically – my primary source of measurable approval – continued to compete with intense off-and-on “partying,” i.e. an equally strong desire for freedom, happiness and belonging.

Although I eventually graduated at the top of my college class – Summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, B.A. in Philosophy – I practically drank myself to death a few times along the way. My addiction to academic achievement actually helped bring an end to those drinking years, when I finally had to choose between having another beer or writing my senior thesis.

That thesis really annoyed my academic advisor – a secular Jewish feminist expert in post-modern linguistic philosophy – because I hinted at God’s existence. I couldn’t help it: I simply had no other way to explain how, after 10 years of battling with drinking problems off and on, I woke up one morning in March 1980 and knew that I knew that I knew it would never work for me and it was time to stop. I felt empty and yet somehow peaceful, as the troubling question of alcohol was simply and finally settled - supernaturally, it seemed. I was beginning to sense God's hand in my life, although I would not acknowledge His Name for another 18 months, and it would take years of healing before I really learned to how to "play" and experience His joy.

So I went from being one of Friedrich “God is dead” Nietzsche’s biggest fans to writing my senior philosophy thesis on "creative self-understanding," using the ancient Greek oracle at Delphi as an analogy for how life presents opportunities and our responses shape our destiny. (Phew – that was a mouthful :) After I became a Christian I decided that trying to explain God without the Bible is always a lot more complicated than it needs to be!)

My advisor, who had previously taught at Harvard and sat on their admissions board, was annoyed by my newfound and therefore vague spirituality. “Are you saying there is a God?” she asked me, sounding irritated. “Maybe…I’m not sure,” I replied honestly. She contributed a "minus" to the A on my thesis, then read me an amazing letter of recommendation she’d written about me for graduate school (to which I never did commit) to show how frustrated she was that I didn’t have more confidence in myself.

One of my favorite philosophy professors used to question whether the Greek word philosophía should be translated “love of wisdom” or “the wisdom of love.” Although he claimed to be an atheist, that may have been a wonderful God-given thought! As I look back, the ability to use God's many gifts in my life began to fall into place as I learned to connect with His Love and wisdom.

In recent years, I’ve also experienced more joy – a restoration of childlike simplicity, the ability to “play,” have fun and enjoy life. On two separate occasions prophetic ministers have spoken words to me that confirmed, without my having told them in advance, a “mental picture” I had of myself as a little girl running and playing in a field with Jesus. One pastor said, after praying for me, “Some people need a lot of fences and restrictions, but I see you like a child running and playing in an open field, as God gives you freedom and joy.”

A few years ago, the church I attend started a school of ministry. People were excited about taking mid-week Bible classes, but I found it difficult to attend due to timing and traffic en route from where I live and work. I was feeling stressed by all the busy-ness and a little bit "left out." As I was praying, I "saw" myself again in the field with Jesus, but this time I had buried my head in my arms on His knees, occasionally glancing back over my shoulder nervously (He was seated, and I was trying to rest and hide at the same time). I was tired, and didn't want to look at the enormous harvest all around me - it looked like a lot of work. In that picture, Jesus seemed to smile and say to me, “Oh no, we’ll do it together, and it will be FUN!”

About a month ago, a visiting minister prayed over me at an altar call, “You’re going to have a lot of FUN doing what God has called you to do, teaching others how to walk with Him with joy. I see you smiling as you serve up what you're learning, scooping it up and dishing it out, like a happy little ice cream scooper at a party!” Then she laughed – come to think of it, most of the truly serious prophetic words I've been given over the years have almost always come with laughter...

By the way, writing this blog is FUN for me. Does it taste like ice cream to you? :)

Start with GOD - the first step in learning is bowing down to GOD; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning. [Proverbs 1:7 MSG]

Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly. [Proverbs 3:18 NLT]

Thus says the Lord: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight," says the Lord. [Jeremiah 9:23-24 NKJ]

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