Most of our lives are spent wondering what to do, when.
As ancient peoples might have looked to the sky for portents, or consulted an oracle before going to war or building a city in a certain spot—we often wish there was a simple answer to guidance in our modern world.
We long for a way to fit the best bits of advice “out there” (and there is more than we can handle thrown at us every day) to our specific needs and questions.
I have had friends who would open a Bible in front of them to a random page, glance down, and expect their eye to fall on just the right verse that would tell them what to do in a given situation. I can’t say that it didn’t work for them. I just never felt this was the route for me, as much as I revere biblical wisdom.
When we go to our local Chinese restaurant we dutifully crack open our fortune cookies, and sometimes trade with each other when ours seems to suit the other better. They are all happy and encouraging affirmations that we’d love to have come true. But usually they don’t speak specifically to what we’d most like to know, from an authority higher than our own hopes and dreams!
Proverbs, maxims, famous quotations on any topic can be found with a click nowadays—many more than we can digest or assimilate. Wisdom is out there—but we’re often still at sea when we try to apply it.
And, in a post-modern age, it is increasingly difficult to believe in a one-size-fits-all answer for anything. Yet it is also undoubtedly true that from time to time a string of instructive words will seem to cast a beam of light directly on our personal situation.
In the lovely observation of author-filmmaker Phil Cousineau: “As if on wings from heaven, the right words can appear and change our lives.” Sometimes a title for a book just “comes to us.” Or a line of poetry or a wise proverb tells our hearts what we already know but couldn’t put our finger on.
[Note: Phil Cousineau and I have the connection of having both written books titled Soul Moments (since our publishers didn’t know of each other’s use of it). We offer quite different takes on the phrase, and I recommend reading his book as well as mine! Phil and I follow each other on Twitter now, an example of how separate worlds can converge in unexpected ways, through shared language.]
The more carefully we choose our words, attend to our diction, the greater the invitation to see what we are composing as something extending beyond our individual situation and maybe having some resonance for the reader in his or her unique world. But as soon as we hammer out a verbal command (other than helping our kids survive in the moment)—pounding out a “you really should” or “everyone ought to”—the weaker our wordstream becomes. Often our insistence is easily refuted by facts and circumstances we didn’t have access to.
Everyone is a special case.
And herein lies the problem.
How can WE find guidance for everyday living—in small doses that can actually be taken in and absorbed for good and for gain?
It surely takes eyes and ears that are open, as Jesus often said. And discernment—a developed trait.
I propose not only biblical wisdom verses in this diet, but phrases of insight from many sources that often seem to shine off of a page of prose and encapsulate the gist of a piece.
I often tweet compelling summary sentences (condensing the ideas into 140 characters), along with a link to the full article, when it moves me.
Just my contribution to the perennial search for guidance in small doses.
What words of wisdom have influenced your choices or given your life new direction?