wisdom, n. 1. the quality or state of being wise; sagacity, discernment, or insight.
wise, adj. 1. having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right; possessing discernment, judgment, or discretion.
~Random House Webster’s
Bad decisions seem to happen in flashes: one moment everything’s fine, then foolishness strikes like lightning, and forever afterward you can point to this one choice as irrevocable, as the moment your life started crumbling. If only I’d been thinking straight … if only I had seen … After disaster strikes, wisdom goes suddenly from seeming dusty and irrelevant to being precious beyond comprehension. You’d give anything to go back and make that decision again, this time with your eyes open to the truth.
Jesus compares both wisdom and foolishness to the construction of a house: a structure raised level by level, requiring much work and many decisions. And in Jesus’ description, the choice that matters is not the one you made when you saw the storm coming, or the choice to reinforce the cross-beams or the door. In addition, the day that matters is not the day of the storm, though it may have been when your life came crashing down. The choice that matters happened at the very beginning, so far back you may not even remember: the day you decided what to build on. This is what matters, Jesus said: when you laid the foundation, was it in rock, or in sand?
Building on rock means choosing honest encounters with reality, choosing honest encounters with God. If God does not seem to you, like the rock-bottom foundation of reality, then that is where to start. Building on rock has nothing to do with facades, or with pretending to believe because you know you should. To build on rock you must encounter truth for yourself, and that means going out into the world and out into the Bible, without pretenses. It means digging deep into the heart of things, facing questions that make you afraid. The writer of Proverbs urges us to “Trust in the Lord with all our hearts,” to trust so much we’re not even leaning on our own understanding. That kind of trust doesn’t come from trying hard. It comes from seeing, simply and profoundly, a God who is worth trusting.
Building on rock starts with admitting who you are. Internally admitting: the way I treat my parents when I am angry, when everything hurts, is the way I will treat those closest to me some day. The person who comes out in those moments – she could not come out if she were not inside me. But I have no idea how to make her go away.
It is one of the paradoxes of God that we cannot be made new until we admit that we are incapable of remaking ourselves. We may be closest to holiness when we’re overwhelmed by the irreparable twistedness of our hearts. That is when miracles start.
If we want a life that will not wash away in every rainstorm, we must choose to begin every day anew, by facing the truth; admitting that we are not the standard of reality or the bedrock. Facing truth can mean letting yourself be overwhelmed by a sunset every time you see one. It can mean listening to good advice you’d rather ignore. It can mean reading your Bible, not in order to find support for your favorite opinions, but in order to be changed.
Parable of the House-Builders
For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
[Stephanie Gehring is a 23-year-old self-employed portrait artist, high school math tutor, and freelance writer. She spent the first sixteen years of her life in Germany and lives in Portland, Oregon.]