Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mother's Wisdom

Mothers are often, but not always, sources of great wisdom about life. It can be simple, it can be complex, it can be deep, it can be straight to the point, it can be confounding. I found a few online: 

“Treat others equally, be giving without expecting gratitude and stand up for what you believe in.”

“Saving up is hard, finding something to spend it on isn’t. Save up now and figure out what to spend it on later.”

“If it’s not butter, don’t butter — what’s point in eating anything if it doesn’t taste good?”

“Whether it’s that carton of orange juice in the fridge or a relationship, it’s always better to finish one thing before you start another.”[1]

That made me sit and think what the best piece of advice my mom had given me was. It isn’t easy. Dad was more the advice giver in our family. Mom was the common sense antidote when dad’s advice wasn’t so good. But as far as advice goes, I would have to say that she always told us to get outside and do our summer chores in the garden and yard before it got unbearably hot. Even when we were complaining, she tried to remind us that it would just get worse if we put it off. That encouraged me to get my work done as soon as possible and not to put it off.

My sister’s first response was that my mom’s most common piece of advice was wear sunscreen, which while not very deep, is after all pretty good advice if you are as prone to sunburn as our family is. After she thought about it more, though, my sister said that what she really learned from my mom was that she always said some form of I love you every time she left the house or the car or basically her. My sister has friends from childhood who told her that they learned to do that in their life from our mom.

So then I decided to ask my family members what the best advice they received from my grandmothers were.

My Grandma Lois had a tough life, and she wanted the rest of us to have it better, so her advice was get an education. Advice that I heard repeated and repeated in my house (especially since my mom was a schoolteacher).

My Great-Grandma Nellie was a pretty no-nonsense lady, and her advice was “If you are going to do something, do it right. Clean up after, clean your tools and put them away. A place for everything and everything in its place.”

My Grandma McPherson was a fountain of love, so it makes sense that her advice was “Love your job or get a new one. Love your in-laws. Love your adopted children and grandchildren as much as your own. Don’t discriminate against any race.”

Anyway. I decided that you could read Psalm 1 as mom advice. Think of this as something your mom wrote for you.

The truly happy person
    doesn’t follow wicked advice,
    doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
    and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.
Instead of doing those things,
    these persons love the Lord’s Instruction,
    and they recite God’s Instruction day and night!
They are like a tree replanted by streams of water,
    which bears fruit at just the right time
    and whose leaves don’t fade.
        Whatever they do succeeds.

That’s not true for the wicked!
    They are like dust that the wind blows away.
And that’s why the wicked will have no standing in the court of
justice—neither will sinners
    in the assembly of the righteous.
The Lord is intimately acquainted
    with the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked is destroyed.

This psalm is what in wisdom writings is called the two paths types of advice. It is reminding us that in life we always have a choice. There are two ways to go. One way is good, the other is not. If you want to be happy, you must choose the good. In all things. So listen to good advice from good people. Read scripture, use it to build up your life. Bear fruit.

If we choose the second path, wickedness, we will not be happy. It may look like we will be, but in the end the result of wickedness is temporary. It is dust in the wind. It blows away. It doesn’t result in real justice, it doesn’t earn long term respect.

This psalm compares the two paths to a tree being planted in two different places. The first tree is planted by streams and water, where there are things that give life. The second tree is planted in a dry desert. Unlike trees, we can choose where we are planted, so the writer says be careful where you plant yourself in life. Since you have a choice, choose well. You can plant yourself in places that give life, near streams of water that keep you alive and give life to others; or you can plant yourself in places that steal life and destroy it.

It honestly is trying to boil our choices down to the simplest level, and show how attractive choosing the good is, and how unattractive choosing the bad is. In real life, it can be harder to tell the difference. There can be 32 choices instead of just two. And often there are things we don’t have control of, some roads in life we end up on without any choice at all of our own.

But the psalm is reminding us, if you boil it down to its simplest form: what we have control over, and what we have responsibility for: if you boil it down to that, when we do come to a crossroads, where we have a choice, the psalm says, choose the good.

Good choices lead to greater happiness than bad choices. Like the choice to butter or not to butter. Or the choice to clean up your tools. Or the choice to do your work now, or wait until later when it is 100 in the shade.

Do you see why I said the psalm is a lot like mother’s wisdom? Mom’s tend to teach us about choices, and try to help us make good choices. The same is true of God. God wants us to choose the good, not because God is an tough taskmaster or an angry school-marm, but rather like a mother, God wants us to have a happy life, a good life, a life that is like a tree planted by waters; and God knows that the way to such a life is often a result of our choices.

This does not mean we will not suffer. It simply means that in the midst of suffering we will be happier than one who chooses evil when they go through suffering.  It does not mean that we are on a difficult road because we chose to be there; rather, that while on the difficult road of life we can make our trip easier or harder. We can be like trees planted by water or we can be like trees planted in the desert. We can listen to mom, or we can ignore her. We can use the butter that tastes good, or the non-butter that doesn’t. We have a choice, to choose that which is good!

How do we do that? Amazingly the Psalm gives us some simple instructions.

Don’t listen to bad advice; instead, love God’s advice.

Don’t follow the example of others who make bad decisions; instead, follow God’s instruction.

Look at the long term. What will last, and what will pass away? What is temporary and what has eternal value?

Choose that which brings life like water in the desert, avoid choices which bring drought, death and destruction.

Do what will gain you respect in a gathering of good people; don’t do what will lose you their respect.

At least those are the things that I pull out of the Psalm. And I hope that they help you as you go about your day, your week, and your life.

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