There’s so much to say that I don’t even know where to begin.
It may still be three months before the real New Year, but to one whom you might be tempted to call a professional student, the beginning of the school year is real enough. And as with any other beginning, this one is not really complete without some reflection of the road traveled so far and some anticipation about the road that lies ahead.
I am now one week into my second year of Ph. D., or fourth year of grad school. I’m wondering where the last seven years went and in particular, my years as a grad student. The transition from undergrad to grad could hardly be called a transition. Coursework, activities, and social circles remained nearly intact. Sure, I focused harder on my studies and cut out some extracurriculars so that I could focus on my studies; and I’ve certainly found other avenues of utilizing my time, but all things considered, school was school.
But lest I stay suspended in my youthful bubble forever, Life forced itself upon me, telling me that after so many years, things must change. In the beginning, it was subtle. Housemates came and went. Well, today’s society is quite mobile, so no surprise there. Friends who stayed on for the Master’s degree left to join the workforce. Well, that was natural enough; everyone starts work sometime. New classes graduated. Well, that happens every year. I was given more responsibilities at church and in the fellowship. Well, people grow.
But then the changes kept coming. I started attending weddings. My friends started attending weddings. My friends got married. (Only last weekend, Mickey, my former roommate and co-laborer in FiCS, proposed to his girlfriend and is now engaged.) Past acquaintances got married, which I only know because of Facebook.
Things changed closer to home as well. My sister, who’s always been a little kid to me, started college. My other co-laborer in FiCS, who is also my mentor, started treating me like a peer, and then in the latest turn of events, he stepped down from serving in college ministry this year and I’m now working without a net, so to speak. I knew the day would come, but I never imagined it would be so sudden (but knowing my life, I should not have been surprised).
Career-wise, I got funding for the first time, and all of a sudden, research has taken a much higher priority. I’ve fulfilled most of my coursework requirements, allowing me to take just one technical course per quarter this year, thus giving me more time to take ownership of my research as well as to explore other aspects of life.
And on the topic of life, on a more personal level, I’ve begun to change as well. I tried contact lenses (even one year ago, I didn’t imagine I’d be so daring as to consciously stick something in my eye). I started to pay more attention to my appearance, in particular, to basic grooming and style of clothing. (I must admit, it is kind of a drain on my brain.) I cold-started working on my social skills by meeting new people (the gym’s a great place to do that). All in all, a little more boldness, a little more confidence, and a little more vanity.
And wisdom. It’s a funny thing. Just last year around this time, I was wondering how I’d ever gain wisdom. I had been comparing myself to my mentor, a very wise brother, and wonder when I’d ever be like him. Now when I think “wise man,” the first thought that pops into my head is a picture of an old sage with white hair whose vision has dimmed but whose mind is still acute. I’m sure many people have similar impressions. It’s no mystery that the older you get, the wiser you are. Job 12:12 says, “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” But why? I just never thought that deeply. I figured wisdom would just come with time.
Well, last fall, we studied the New Testament book of James in small group. Verse 5 of chapter 1 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” Really? It was that simple? I tried it. Why not? So I prayed for wisdom. And over the months, I began to notice that I was able to discern more easily the right thing to do in certain situations. I was able to relate to people more, and offer better counsel when they wanted it. There’s still much more wisdom and knowledge to be gained, for sure. The process is only beginning, but God’s Word doesn’t fail, and it’s great to be able to watch His work in action.
I can even answer that question about how wisdom is gained. You want to know? There are several ways, but there is only one foundation, and that is God’s Word: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10).
So what does this mean? It means that by following God’s precepts, or principles, you are acting in wisdom. It’s important to know that it’s not just the act of obedience, but the heart of obedience (“fear of the LORD”) that brings discernment. If a man’s heart is aligned with God’s heart, then he knows how God thinks. He knows right from wrong. In this way, revelation through the Bible provides wisdom.
Of course, the Bible doesn’t lay out every scenario explicitly. The fact that there are principles to follow means that the wise must think about the Word, and figure out how it applies to their particular situations. According to Proverbs 14:8, “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.” Active meditation is necessary on the part of the wise to understand the truth that has been revealed.
Another way to gain wisdom is through the teachings of the older and wiser, like parents. The Bible teaches this: “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8). The assumption is that the parents’ teachings are aligned with the Word of God and that they themselves possess wisdom.
Where did the wisdom of the parents come from? Or more broadly, why are aged people wiser? One would agree that even among those who have not read the Bible, the elderly are generally wiser. The reason is experience (cf. Ecclesiastes). They’ve gone through more suffering and have seen more mistakes (both their own and others’) that allow them to associate patterns of behaviors with general outcome. I noticed that in my own life this past year, and now I understand where so much of my mentor’s wisdom comes from (besides the fact that he’s also a very godly man well-read in the Scriptures). He’s gone through a lot, far more than I have. He’s seen much more and had his share of mistakes. As for me, this past year has been eye-opening for me because so much has gone on in both my life and in the ministry, but I’ve still got much to learn, and so I’m praying for wisdom for another year.
Change is rarely a sequence of transition points, but like the tide, it is a process with a duration, and when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t realize how everything around you is changing. There may be times when consequences become clear, but the processes dictating the outcome is ever working in the background.
This is undoubtedly a turning point in my life. After all, I’m nearing that age where I’m supposed to have a quarter-life crisis, supposing that I live to be a centenarian. I am certainly no longer a kid. More than anything else, it’s Wisdom that has really wrought in me some maturity. As I think about the road ahead, I can only trust in God’s sovereignty, but more than that, his sovereign mercy, for I know that my God is slow to anger and abounding in love, ever faithful to complete the work that He’s begun, my Abba, Father in heaven, who having already given me Christ will not neglect to provide all that I need. May His name be glorified this year.