As part of a recent faculty meeting at the university where I teach, we had a large group discussion on ways to improve the program. Various faculty members added their input, with some comments eliciting little response while others generated a sea of head nods and a chorus of "Ah, good point!" In the midst of it, I realized how desperately I wanted to be in the latter category, saying something that caused my colleagues and superiors to nod and affirm my wisdom.
Actually, I have sought to be wise ever since I can remember. But as I realized anew in that faculty meeting, my motives have not always been commendable. I genuinely hoped my wisdom would help others, and many times that has been the case. Yet too often my desire for wisdom was a means to a self-centered end – prestige and recognition. I sought to be wise in order to gain a reputation for being wise, in order to impress others and appease my own insecurities.
I am not proud of my ulterior motives. Yet awareness prompts me to pray and work for something better. For instance, I notice that people who are truly wise are also truly humble. Like attentive gardeners, they deepen the roots of their wisdom through prayer, fertilize it with patience and compassion, and prune the unruly branches of pride. They listen with full attention, seeming to grasp not only words but the emotions and motivations behind them. They speak carefully, slowly, and only when they have something worth saying. They derive great joy from bringing peace and clarity to a person or situation, and their reward is to serve others by using the gift God has given them.
With scripture ringing in my ears and their example challenging my heart I pray to constantly do better, that I may be an ever more transparent instrument of God’s wisdom for the sake of God’s people rather that for my own edification.
So what did I do when those old demons arose at the faculty meeting? Instead of listening half-heartedly while formulating a "wise" comment to make, I consciously sat back, shut my mouth, and prayerfully listened. I used the intellect God gave me to process and reflect. When someone else’s comment seemed particularly on point, I added to the head nods and affirmations.
Ultimately, although I did not speak in the large group, I more fully participated than I would have if I’d been formulating something to say. My written reflections submitted to the facilitators at the end of the meeting, though not affording an opportunity for the public adulation of attendees, were more thoughtful and likely made a deeper contribution to improving the program. And after the meeting ended, I felt more satisfied than I have after other meetings in which I spent half the time deciding what to say and the other half trying to figure out if I’d impressed everyone with my words.
It is a lifelong process to set my ego aside, and God knows I am terribly imperfect. But I am learning. I am trying. And with the grace of God, perhaps I am actually becoming a little more wise.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.