My mother appears to have very few regrets in life. Not the least of which is my departing home unable to cut up a raw chicken.
Jamaican stew chicken with rice and peas were a constant presence every Sunday evening of my growing up years. The preparation began the night before when my mother chopped up and seasoned a raw chicken readying it for the oven the next afternoon.
On a random Sunday in August of 1997, I ate my last staple Sunday meal. A few days later, I left for college. After that my occasional return visits home were to an altered home environment that no longer held the consistency of my familiar Sunday family meal. I can’t say that I was really disappointed as the meal was never a particular favorite of mine.
Ten years later, I was living in South Africa and longing to share some of my Jamaican heritage with my friends. Jamaican stew chicken with rice and peas seemed like the perfect meal to prepare.
The only problem?
I had no idea how to even begin cooking the food. The taste was familiar but the preparation was foreign. A lifetime of eating the same meal week after week, and I wasn’t even sure where to start except with the knowledge that I needed a chicken.
A quick phone call across the ocean yielded the cooking wisdom of my mother. While she patiently listed the ingredients and explained the method, I soaked up the knowledge she provided. The only thing she couldn’t explain over the phone was how to actually chop up the chicken. So, I easily substituted store cut pieces in place of chopping my own whole chicken.
In the middle of taking the skin off raw chicken parts and trying to estimate seasonings in just the right quantities, I started wishing that I had somehow paid just a little bit closer attention when I was growing up. Maybe if I’d paid slightly closer attention and been slightly more intentional about learning, maybe in this moment I would know better what I was doing.
The reality of life is that wisdom is constantly calling. At every turn, there is knowledge to be gained, lessons to be learned, and even chicken-chopping to better understand.
The one thing that often separates me from acquiring this available wisdom is my very own self. Sometimes it’s a lack of time or a lack of interest (as was initially the case with the chicken) or even perhaps a general dislike for the person giving the wisdom. Even more sobering is the reality that the ability to learn from situations or others doesn’t last forever. Due to the forward nature of life, there will be a last time that I will have an opportunity to learn from someone or some situation. How was I to know that meal in August 1997 would be the last time I saw it prepared with any kind of regularity? Perhaps in my mind I assumed that Jamaican stew chicken with rice and peas would always show up, and I could learn to prepare the meal whenever I finally discovered an interest.
The book of Proverbs continually makes reference to the importance of wisdom. Proverbs 2:1-6 states:
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding — indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
As I reread that passage, the verbs seem to become bold and italicized in my mind: turning, applying, call out, cry aloud, look, and search. All these words indicate action that a person is taking in order to develop wisdom. It doesn’t appear that wisdom is something I absorb just by living. Rather, wisdom is something that I am commanded to look for and fervently seek out.
And it just might not be simple.
I have never really experienced searching for silver or for hidden treasure, but I am sure that the process isn’t easy. Part of the reason both are considered valuable is the effort that it takes to find them. Yet, people continue to search knowing that what they find is worth the challenge of looking.
That is the attitude I need to have as I look for wisdom. Wisdom is valuable and worth the effort of looking past my own interests, past my interest in a situation, past even the personality of the person who may have wisdom to share. Instead I need to recognize that the wisdom that I can glean from a situation or circumstance will not be around forever. The truth is that there will be a last time for me to have access to that wisdom.
Several years ago, I attended a presentation on wealth management. The principles were valuable but the speaker’s tone and delivery felt somewhat condescending and short on grace. I squirmed in my seat from frustration at listening to the disagreeable attitude of the presenter, I decided to leave. My justification was why should I listen to someone who is so irritating and annoying?
Looking back, I wish I had fine-tuned the ability to see past the presenter and focus on the wise principles that he was trying to share. The presentation was a few hours out of my day. The wisdom I stood to gain had the potential to be useful over a lifetime.
The church I grew up in had very few people my age. I spent years longing for more teenagers to invade our congregation (and complaining to my parents that perhaps we should go someplace else). What I missed were the opportunities to reach out to the young moms in our church and seek wisdom since I hoped to be like them one day. I was unable to see past my own needs and recognize the gift of wisdom that abounded in my own church family. I didn’t realize when I left that church, it was to be the last time I would be consistently around young mothers until I gave birth to my own child.
Now as a mother, I occasionally reflect back about a missed opportunity to seek wisdom and learn from the experiences of other mothers. Perhaps if I had taken advantage of the chance to learn, I might be more familiar with the challenges and struggles that come with raising a child. I might even have more perspective on some of the fears that can crop up while caring for a baby.
The last part of the Proverbs passage discusses how the Lord gives wisdom. Wisdom is a gift that God provides, but it is my responsibility to actually take this gift recognizing that the opportunity to learn will not always be available. Sometimes that may mean looking past overbearing personalities or my own personal preferences regarding what I want to learn.
Instead it involves a heart that is willing to dig deeply for wisdom in the midst of a variety of situations. A heart that is willing to dig deeply knowing that God’s gift of wisdom is not dependent on situations or circumstances. God’s gift of wisdom is dependent on the heart of the receiver.
And the skill of chicken-chopping? The opportunity to learn is still there. This year, I will be visiting my mother for a week. At the top of my list will be asking her to show me the art of cutting up raw chickens.
Wisdom is constantly calling, and I am striving to seek out its truths.