Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If —” begins with the famous words, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs,” and ends with the promise, “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.”
Keeping one’s head while everyone else is losing theirs seems to be a difficult goal in March 2020. The hard reality about the Coronavirus scare is that the Coronavirus itself is not the true threat. Our real threat is panic. Overreaction, misdirected worry, mob-like behavior … all these have the very real ability to upset the economy and upend the social fabric of our communities, results which could harm and kill more people than the Coronavirus ever will.
What is needed most today, at every level of society, is something we as a society have long since waved off as old-fashioned and out-of-date. I’m speaking about wisdom. In 21st century America children are taught to be compassionate, accepting, creative, assertive, confident, but almost never are they taught to be wise.
Why? Perhaps in our digital and global age this most ancient of qualities seems to belong to a different time. Yet wisdom is, not only timeless, but essential in instances such as these. Wisdom is defined as “knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.” Could anything be more necessary in today’s world?
The Scriptures are quite clear that wisdom is a quality to be pursued and highly valued. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.” Proverbs tells us that, “Wisdom is better than jewels,” that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and that, “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom.” Wisdom is mentioned at least 160 times in the Old Testament, praised and personified again and again, and its vital importance is simply taken for granted in the New Testament that follows. In ancient times, it was clear: wisdom was a lifelong goal.
James tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” The pursuit of wisdom can fill a lifetime, but it begins with a prayer. It begins when we open our heart to God and ask for that ability to discern, to understand, to sort right from wrong and good from bad. It is a gift freely given, but it must first be requested. It must first be sought.
So let us seek it now. We hear again and again that these are “unprecedented times.” They may not be unprecedented for all of history, but they are indeed for our history. What more appropriate time to come to the maker and ruler of the universe and ask for guidance in living out our days? What better time to look away from ourselves and to God for direction and judgement, as individuals, as families, as communities, as a nation?
As these days roll by, don’t give in to the voices on television or in the grocery store aisles that are urging you to lose your head. Keep it, as Kipling says. Remember that God will restore us, but only if we ask for restoration. Be an example, be a believer, and ask, with sincerity and trust, for the wisdom to lead everyone around you to a better tomorrow.
The Rev. William E. Pike has pastored the United Methodist congregation in New Market since 2011. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.