Where to Find Wisdom
This morning I woke up early and immediately started thinking about my goals and plans. I am eager to learn many important lessons this year, and I have been thinking about where to find wisdom. I was led to read about one of my ancestors, and I landed on my great grandmother Miriam Gilchrist. I have heard stories from my grandmother, but I still knew very little about her.
One of my favorite experiences from reading about her life was to see how her life and influence continues to permeate the lives of her posterity. For example, Miriam loved literature. She was well read and shared her knowledge with her family. She was in charge of many book clubs throughout her life, and it was well known that her favorite thing to do was sit down to a good book and a box of chocolates. Smart woman! =) Not much has changed as mother passed love and knowledge down to daughter.
Something else that I noticed was the small bits of wisdom that are passed down, even though they may evolve. Miriam often said to her daughter, “Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must, but be pleasant if it kills you.” It was said that my great grandmother was easily all three. Then her daughter taught my mother, “Comb your hair, brush you teeth, look in the mirror once and then don’t worry about it anymore.” and “Pretty is as pretty does.” These nuggets of wisdom have permeated my thoughts of beauty and always will.
I remember truly believing that if I was clean and kind, my inner beauty would shine through. This was so important for me during my formative years because I was painfully self-conscious and struggled with acne for the better part of my life, and I needed to believe I could still be beautiful in my own way. I know that I was not very pretty by the world’s standards growing up, but I was real, and I always tried to be kind. Still today I have learned to love myself a bit more, but I still believe that my actions and thoughts will be as apparent as my outward appearance.
Not too long ago, Jane was looking in the mirror and complaining about her nose. I was shocked. I immediately began teaching her about what really matters and assured her that she is perfectly made and beautiful. Like me, she will likely excuse my compliments at times, but I pray she will always remember my lessons about kindness and true beauty.
These are the truths that we passed down naturally, but I also learned that Miriam lost her mother, whom she had a close relationship with, when she was in high school and helped raise three half brothers until she graduated. She had five of her own children and lost one-a little girl at 2.5 years old. She also lived through losing a farm early in her marriage. She was a gritty family woman and leader in her communities. She loved her husband, cards, dancing, books and traveling. She was warm and good. I needed to hear how she didn’t merely live through her struggles, she found ways to thrive forward. I also needed to hear how she offered her warm love to her children and grandchildren through hours of visiting, reading and family vacations. I am always looking for ways to connect with my children more meaningfully and her example inspires me.
So why am I sharing all of this with you? I realized as I learned about my great grandmother that there is so much wisdom available to us that we are simply ignoring. My brother pointed out in a conversation lately, that the problem with our generation is that we spend too much time trying to teach each other-novice to novice-when there is a whole generation of parents, grandparents and beyond that have already lived through many of the challenges that we face. Although there are differences in the dates that we live, much of the truth that they found can still be applied. I love learning from my peers, but I have decided to spend more time learning from the more experienced family and friends, living and deceased.
I challenge you to learn from someone who you may deem “out of the loop” or who simply is one stage ahead of you. I believe their perspective has value. Focus on the good you can learn from them. There will likely be outdated advice or experiences, but there will also be wonderful treasures of wisdom that they offer to you, even if that is through simply sharing about their losses and triumphs. Write down what you learn and use it to fuel your life, a life that will be available for study and reflection one day.
Here is a list of questions to consider as you learn from the older, experienced people in your life.
- What did they do that allowed them to overcome their challenges?
- What did they do to find joy in their life?
- What are they known/remembered for and why?
- What are their top five values and why?
- What advice could they give you in a specific area of your life…teenage years, single adult, newly married couple, early marriage, raising all age kids, keeping marriage strong, career, health.
- What do they like about the upcoming generation? What do they dislike about the upcoming generation?
- What about their life do you want to remember and share with your children?
- If they lived or live a less exemplary life, take note of the decisions that led them there. Avoid those same pitfalls and write a new story for your family. We can learn from the good and the bad.