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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Formation through Hardship; Wisdom Beyond Our Years



(Kansas History Students: Look for my Kansas History posting in the September archive.)

Did you see Clarence Thomas on 60 Minutes Sunday? I happen to catch this segment following a football game and watched mesmerized (as I popped Sunday night's batch of popcorn). If you missed it, read the transcript or watch the segment.

It is striking to see how the hardship Justice Thomas endured early on served to shape him into the man he is today. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) famously said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Quite anti-Christian and credited with bringing us the post-modern age, he nevertheless found a nugget of truth in that remark. The Bible tells us that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). Every one of us can point to difficult circumstances in our lives that, in the end, formed us into the person that we are today.

It is odd, then, that as a homeschooling mom my first instinct is not to help my children navigate through difficulty successfully, but to look for ways to remove them from the difficulty. This might be my way, but it is not God's. Over and over again the Bible tells us of men and women of God who were not rescued or removed from the difficulty they faced, but they were strengthened by the power of God to endure it.

My mothering is so inevitably flawed, but each morning I implore the great Redeemer to redeem my efforts and even in my failures to somehow use that to make my children wiser, stronger, and yet more dependant on their Savior.

••••

PBS has been broadcasting Ken Burns' latest documentary entitled The War, which tells tales of World War II in the voices of those who lived through it. I've seen portions of episodes here and there, but last night as I watched I was overcome with a feeling of sadness. I wasn't feeling, however, grief about the horrors of war (although it is horrible). When I remembered reading Psalm 90 just a few days before I understood my sadness.

Psalm 90 is a prayer of Moses, the only Psalm credited to this man of God. Excerpts from the Psalm:

You return man to dust and say, "Return, O children of man!"
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. . .
For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. . .
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants! Satisty us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

As I watched the elderly veterens recount their memories and evaluate the impact of those experiences on their lives, I felt a grief for the passage of time. The hard-earned wisdom that comes from numbering one's days and enduring a span of toil and trouble is lost to the generations that remain. I'm grieved that our culture prefers to take direction from the young and foolish and so discredits the wisdom of those whose years are coming to an end like a sigh.

We can remedy this by listening, as Ken Burns did, to the wisdom of the aged. And we can compensate for our youth by studying the wisdom of the ages and learning through the experience of others in ages past. This might give us wisdom beyond our years.

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