“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23
What exactly is wisdom? Too often it is confused with knowledge or intelligence (that is, the ability to learn and retain knowledge). And yes knowledge and intelligence may in fact contribute to wisdom, but wisdom is more than that – much more. Instead, wisdom is about understanding — understanding in the context of meaning and purpose in life, the value and sacredness of relationships with others, with creation, and with God.
Did you ever know someone who was wise, who seemed to “get it”? I’m sure you have – and probably still do. For many of us our first encounter with wisdom may have occurred at an early age through a parent or grandparent, perhaps an aunt or uncle, a teacher or coach. Have you ever wanted to just sit in that person’s presence and absorb his or her understanding? I have. There are people in my life even today who impress me with their wisdom. They are people from whom I sometimes seek counsel, and at other times simply observe what they say and do.
Wisdom has always been valued, of course. In fact, most cultural traditions throughout history have honored their elders because of their wisdom. But wisdom is not something that can be learned from study nor earned through hard work. Rather, wisdom must accrue organically through life experience, observation, and relationships with others who are wise.
The emphasis in our culture today seems to be that education combined with hard work is the ultimate recipe for success and happiness. I happen to believe, however, that there is a third ingredient that is equally essential but often ignored, and that is wisdom. In fact, assuming knowledge and hard work being equal, wisdom may be the tipping point for success and happiness for those who embrace it as an ingredient; for the head may contain knowledge and the hands produce hard work, but it is the heart where wisdom resides. And that is why the writer of the proverb insists that “above all else” we must guard our heart . . . “for it is the wellspring of life.”