“But indeed the business of the universe is to make such a fool of you that you will know yourself for one, and so begin to be wise!”George MacDonald, Lilith
At times it feels this is particularly the business of Motherhood. Mothers accept, as part of their labor, the title of cook, nurse, teacher, interior decorator, theologian, repairwoman, housekeeper, accountant, psychologist, conflict negotiator, etc..the list goes on. We receive no real training and sometimes it shows. So yes, we realize quickly that we are fools. But how do we turn this knowledge of our own foolishness into wisdom? First, laugh.
“Laughter has something in common with the ancient words of faith and inspiration; it unfreezes pride and unwinds secrecy; it makes people forget themselves in the presence of something greater than themselves.”G.K. Chesterton
As Chesterton says, we should laugh at the ridiculousness of life. Laugh at the fact that my six-year old is asking me, me, “Where do numbers come from?”, and, expects me to come up with a good answer. In our laughter, we discover that we are a fool and that maybe that isn’t such a horrible discovery. We see the humor in the impossible job we imperfect women are called to do. Then we develop humility.
“The secret of life lies in laughter and humility.”G.K. Chesterton
Humility grows wisdom. If we do not see our foolishness, we never seek wisdom.
“The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.”Fyodor Dostoevsky
And yet, rather than allowing self-knowledge to bring humility, we women often ruminate on our imperfections. This is not humility but another form of self-absorption. We often allow our inadequacies to turn into self-resentment and jealousy. This is not the path to humility but misery. When we realize we are no good at something, we should either try to improve or accept it and move on.
Boys often are made to learn this early in life. A small, skinny boy is told quite bluntly that he isn’t going to make the football team. That’s okay. He can be a jockey. Girls are more likely to avoid this useful lesson. They are taught, “You can do anything!” and are protected from situations where they may realize what a lie that statement is. So when we women discover we are a “fool”, we can’t laugh, our hands are closed so tightly on the idea of perfection. Rather than humbly seeking wisdom we often decide we are useless.
The other day I was invited to visit a nearby church. A dear friend of mine, Sarah, was also there. She is a wonderful mother of four well-behaved kids. She is gorgeous and hardworking; her house is always clean; she is extremely considerate of others, very intelligent, and always cheerful. She does influential charity work all over the country and yet finds time to homeschool her children and stay fit. While she has trials and difficulties like all of us, she handles them with grace. I have always appreciated the influence she has had on my life. Our family sat and listened to the sermon and then were surprised to see my friend get up and sing for the congregation. Wow! She has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. I have known her for six years and had no idea she could sing like that! In the middle of the song, I felt a temptation enter my heart. Many of my daily temptations go unnoticed. (I wish I could also say they go unheeded.) But this temptation spoke very clearly and very loudly and what it wanted was clear – Be Jealous. I feel like God was there with me at the same time and so I saw the darkness in this thought. I share this not to boast of my virtue, but to tell one of my rare success stories. I dismissed the idea and sat there in tears at the beauty of the song she sang, Joy to the World! What a gift all of us in that congregation received. What an incredible person I have the blessing of knowing! What beauty I would have let slip through my fingers if I had followed the temptation to allow that wicked seed of jealousy to grow in my heart.
It is true, I cannot sing like that. If I put in thousands of hours of effort, I don’t have that ability. I will never be all that Sarah is. But what a blessing that I have Sarah as a friend! I hope some say the same of me and my contribution to this world, we all do. But even if no one says that of me, what matters is what I say.
“It is a small thing to a man whether or not his neighbor be merciful to him; it is life or death to him whether or not he be merciful to his neighbor.”George MacDonald
There are really two ways to interact with the world. As a fool seeking Beauty or as a victim seeking Justice. Many say, “They are taking this from us.” “We deserve this” “There is not enough” “Her beauty distracts from mine.” If you want to inhabit that world, go for it. But think about where it leads.
“We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”C.S. Lewis
If we follow the darkness of jealousy, it takes us to bitterness. We will seek justice for the unfairness of life – for our lack and others’ abundance. We will never find it. But in the seeking, we will miss all the beauty, joy, cooperation, and gratitude those we envy could have brought us. We will miss seeing that we are a fool, and so are they – but we are made for a purpose. I want to become what God made me for. I want that for others as well.
It’s great to know I am a fool. Now I can let go of the ridiculous idea that I can do everything. Now I can move forward to acquiring the wisdom I lack and relying on those that are less foolish than me – and hope they can rely on me where I am less foolish than them.