Gray hair, wisdom, and following Christ

My child, from your youth choose discipline;
and when you have gray hair you will find wisdom.
–Sirach 6:18

Gray hair connected with wisdom?

I don’t dye my graying hair, so I experienced a kind of delight in this reading this verse today in Give Us This Day (Liturgical Press). I don’t consider hair coloring to be sinful or anything–so please don’t be offended if you, well, improve your hair color. I just find it freeing and natural to be true to who I really am before God, by letting my hair “be itself,” the color God gave me. (My husband likes it that way, too.)

Of course this bible verse isn’t really about gray hair, but rather the search for wisdom– genuine wisdom, not just memorizing facts or getting a passing grade in school. Youth can be extremely insightful about certain things, but there is a special wisdom that some people receive through lived experience and years of spiritual attentiveness.

Being of an older age is no guarantee that one will be wise, of course. The book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) tells us that if you want to have wisdom in later years, you need to have discipline in your life. Our culture often thinks of discipline as punishment, but that is not what is meant here. Sirach is talking about self-control, dedication, and hard work, like a farmer who works at plowing and planting a field, and then must wait for the harvest.

Growing corn plants--photo by Julie McCarty

If you are like me, you have self-control in some ways but not in others. I can finish a college course, but waste time on Facebook when I should be writing. I can eat a healthy breakfast yet pig out in the evening. I can control cussing in public only to say something hurtful to a friend. You get the idea.

The roots of the words discipline and disciple are connected with learning. A professor teaches an academic discipline, such as chemistry. One who is learning from a spiritual master or guru is called his follower or disciple. The followers of Jesus were not called disciples just because they walked down the road with him, but because they were his spiritual apprentices, learning Christ’s spiritual teachings.

To be a disciple (follower) of Jesus Christ in our own day is to follow his spiritual teachings. Occasionally I get the feeling that some who call themselves Christian in this country are losing sight of this fact. Yes, our profession of belief in Christ might be the minimal requirements, on our death-bed, for God to take us to heaven out of his infinite mercy and love (like the good thief on the cross).  Yes, it is true we cannot “earn” our salvation by our own good works.

Good Shepherd stained glass window--photo by Julie McCartyHowever, if we are really disciples of Christ, that is, believers in the “Jesus way,” then we will seek to live as he taught us. That takes courage, self-control, effort, and many gifts of grace and the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught us that not everyone who cries out “Lord, Lord” (believing in God) will be saved, but rather those who actually do the will of God (see Matt. 7:21).

I want to be that kind of follower of Jesus, someone who not only intellectually believes in Christ or goes to church on Sunday, but also one who lives her life according to the teachings of Christ. Yes, I am a sinner. I cannot live as Christ taught without the help of grace and the Holy Spirit. But I have to do what I can, put forth a little effort to truly love God with my whole heart, mind, soul, and body, and to love others as myself.

For me, living that way would be the Ultimate Wisdom.

Until next time, Amen!

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