Stupid. Gullible. Naïve. Short-sighted. Impulsive. Impressionable. People-pleasing. Foolish. Timid. Double-minded. Inconsistent. Undependable. These are the labels that are often used (by themselves and sometimes by others) for those who lack wisdom.
“I never seem to do anything right… I regret so many of the decisions I’ve made… I don’t trust myself to know what to do in difficult situations… It feels like everyone else got a copy of the ‘unwritten rule book of life’ except me… Hindsight is a synonym for shame in my world…” these are the thoughts of those who dislike or mistrust themselves due to a lack of wisdom.
Wisdom may be the least intuitive synonym for self-esteem in this series. Confidence, identity, security, and purpose are more obvious things people want when they say they have a low self-esteem. However, for many people, it is a series of unwise choices that cause their low self-appraisal. They will not feel better until they choose more wisely; nor, in many cases, should they. To feel good about chronic bad choices would be a worse condition.
This chapter is intentionally last. In order for it to be anything more than a series of proverbs (generic wisdom principles) it must come at the end of discovering one’s identity in Christ and purpose in life. In order for it to have any lasting impact it must come as an extension of possessing the confidence to face failure and the security to endure rejection.
The reality is that we do not tend to make bad choices because of a lack of information. Sure, we may buy a car with a bad track record because we failed to consult Consumer’s Report or Car Fax, but the kind of lifestyle, relational, and impulsive decisions that most frequently damage our self-perception are related to our character more than the need for additional research.
There are many whose experience of low self-esteem is actually regret, guilt, or shame from the inconsistent application of wisdom in their daily choices and relationships. The solution, therefore, is not rehearsing self-affirmation statements, but beginning to organize their life around the values and principles of Scripture. As this is done, the encouragement that is produced will be more sustainable and real than the artificial boost of motivational statements without actual change.
When depression is rooted in poor decision making or inadequate skills, offering encouragement without addressing the decision making approach or skill training has two effects: (a) short-term there is a boost in morale from the pleasant statements, but (b) long-term the despair is intensified as life reinforces negative messages more intensely than the words of another person can counter. This parallels what it is like to try to correct low self-esteem without equipping someone to live in biblical wisdom.
Defining “Biblical Wisdom”
Biblical Wisdom refers to the principled pursuit of pleasure, not to fill a void, but to fulfill a calling. Wisdom requires fearing (seeking the approval of) God more than fearing (seeking the approval of) man. The restraint of wisdom does not diminish the intensity of pleasure, but prolongs the time frame in which pleasure can be savored and the freedom of conscience with which it can be remembered.
Wisdom cannot be reduced to a set of principles or propositions because it is an expression of God’s character in the midst of relationships. Wisdom is a virtue that allows all other blessings to remain good rather than spoiling into burdens.
Wisdom does not belong to academia and does not require a high IQ. Brilliance is, in many ways, capable of more folly than ignorance. Wisdom, in its essence, is simple. It is often because solutions are less complex than our problems that we dismiss wisdom. No one wants to hear that finances boil down to spending less than you make or dieting is only burning more calories than you consume. But we’re glad to get into a complex pyramid scheme or fad diet.
Wisdom is not against action, passion, speaking, and ambition, but wisdom is willing to forego these without feeling cheated and does not consider them “higher virtues” than their alternatives. Wisdom requires things like patience, self-control, listening well, and contentment. The absence of these virtues will destroy whatever can be created or obtained through the strategic implementation of massive quantities of knowledge.
“There are three classes of men—lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, lovers of gain.” – Plato
Wisdom allows the “risks” we take in confidence to fulfill our purpose to be “acts of faith” instead of blind folly. Wisdom allows us to adapt to the preferences and culture of others without surrendering our identity. Wisdom allows our sense of security to withstand the criticism or misunderstanding of others without us giving way to being calloused or closed-minded.
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