“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson Locksley Hall

“Oh, dear Lord, give me wisdom in deciding what to do.” How often have each of us silently prayed these words or ones similar to this? Most of us want to do what is best and know in our hearts that we need help beyond our own capabilities.

I have pondered this desire for wisdom and asked myself, “What is wisdom and when do we get it?” Is there some magical time when we can say, “I now have wisdom”? My mind went to the story of King Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, and how he was known for his great wisdom. I reviewed the scriptures around his being anointed king and realized he was about age twelve, which gave me new insight concerning his discussion with the Lord. When he said that he was “but a little child” now makes sense. Here is his conversation with the Lord and the answer he received:

And now, O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in … Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?

And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.

And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment;

Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. (1 Kings 3:7,9-12)

King Solomon asked for “an understanding heart” and the Lord blessed him with “a wise and an understanding heart.” What was it that caused the Lord to expand the request to include wisdom? The Internet has become a wonderful tool to help in researching ideas. When I searched for the definition of wisdom I came upon this interesting explanation:

Wisdom is knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity [the quality of being sage, wise, or able to make good decisions.], discernment, or insight. It is an ideal that has been celebrated since antiquity as the application of knowledge needed to live a good life. (wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisdom)

I found a similarity in this definition and the request of Solomon. Solomon requested to be able to discern between good and evil and this definition states the knowledge of what is true and right coupled with judgment as to action with the application needed to live a good life.

There are three words that stick out in my mind: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. How do these fit together in the process of living a good life? Knowledge is the search for the facts, the information surrounding our lives. Understanding is being able to get meaning out of the facts that lead to our reasoning and developing principles to guide us. Wisdom is the application of principles that leads us to action, knowing what to do next. This becomes a process that needs to flow from one step to the next with the result of bringing peace. Maybe this could give us a clue to pray for an understanding heart to be able to see and hear the wisdom from the Lord.

Learning from a Man Much Younger

I first met Earl Kaufman when I served as bishop to a freshman ward at Brigham Young University. After our first sacrament meeting, I was able to shake the hand of each of the ward members. As the numbers thinned out there were two young men waiting, and they came up and one introduced himself as a ward member. The other said his name was Earl and that he was this man’s friend, and wanted permission to attend our ward even though he was not a member of the Church. I told them they were both welcome. These two men were football players and Earl was the place kicker for the team.

Earl was exceptionally faithful in his attendance even when the team returned late at night.

Over the next few months we became better acquainted with Earl by my wife Joy taking time to visit with him about his life and how he got to BYU. He was born and raised in Texas and grew up in a divorced family. He made some early decisions that guided his life.

Earl wanted to play football and not only play but to be really good at it. To do so meant he needed to keep his body in shape and protected. So to him, smoking and drinking didn’t make sense even though his parents and other athletes had chosen otherwise. Earl became All-State and was highly recruited.

Another decision had to do with dating. Earl watched the athletes’ dating scene, which was supposed to be fun, and saw that it was not always that way. Some of the girls that he knew who dated the popular athletes were unhappy. Some of them confided in him that they were sad to be doing immoral activities. When he asked them the reason they did those things, their reply was. “If we don’t they won’t like us.”

Earl then made two more very important decisions: (1) He decided he wanted to marry a morally clean young woman; (2) He stated, “I can expect nothing more of her than I am willing to give.” Now that is wisdom. When I heard this, I thought of the scripture found in Alma 37:35, “Learn wisdom in thy youth.”

Those three decisions set the stage for the life changing events that followed. Earl was highly recruited and he chose to come to BYU. When the gospel was introduced to him, it fit his life decisions and he was baptized that semester. During the following year when he returned to the ward he had a cute redhead by his side. We watched that year as they did their courting the right way and at the end of the year they were married in the temple.

Wisdom Does Linger

Joy and I have had the privilege of speaking at many youth standards night firesides and have, with his permission, retold Earl’s story. His early decisions illustrate how personal choices open up opportunities that are life-changing. They show the ultimate respect for self and for those you date and possibly marry. Moral behavior during dating brings trust into a friendship that lasts a lifetime.

True wisdom has application beyond the immediate incident that brought the knowledge. By substituting two minor words for one in Earl’s statement it becomes a universal truth that applies to all interpersonal relationships. The statement is as follows: “I can expect nothing more of [someone else] than I am willing to give.” During the many years since meeting Earl and pondering his statement, I have felt like the quote in Ecclesiastes 9:13, “This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me.”

As a marriage and family therapist, I see the need to apply this wisdom almost every day in the lives of my clients. Couples will come with their marriages ready to break up, telling me the biggest problem is communication. “Whenever we try to discuss anything we always end up in a big fight.”

Often I will get them discussing some aspect of their marriage and I will fade into the background and watch the interchange progress. Before long their voices start to raise, their tempers flare, and they are in a full blown fight. During the spirited discussion, I will often hear one say, “You just don’t listen to me.” And the other one will say, “You don’t care what I think.”

Before it goes too far I will often start to laugh. This startles them, and they stop in mid-sentence and look at me. Many times the look on their faces changes from intense to sheepish and one of them will say, “This is pretty pathetic isn’t it?” I will say that I wish they were in my place hearing what I just heard, and they will often reply that it must have been pretty childish, and I agree.

The pattern of their communication is a rush to get the upper hand by talking over the other person. They try to outdo each other by telling their own side in a more spectacular fashion, and when all else fails the voices rise to a near shout. It seems they each are stuck in the process of inundating the other with facts and knowledge to prove the other wrong by sheer volume (double meaning: amount and loudness).

When I ask them what stops them from listening to the other one, the reply I often get is, “I have to hurry and get my points in or I may not be heard. Beside, most of the time I don’t agree with what my mate is saying and I need to let him/ her know.”

It is here that I will tell them that I learned wisdom from a man much younger that I and I share Earl’s statement: “I can expect nothing more of [someone else] than I am willing to give.” Then I will set up the same discussion with a few new ground rules, and they each have their turn to be completely heard and responded to. When they follow the pattern at home, they come back telling of a calmer week. As they continue to show each other the respect they each want, their marriage grows closer and calmer.

When Does Wisdom Come?

Wisdom comes when you need it if you have followed the correct process to get it. It can come with age, but I believe advice columnist Dear Abby’s statement, “Wisdom doesn’t automatically come with old age. Nothing does – except wrinkles. It’s true; some wines improve with age. But only if the grapes were good in the first place.”

Part of the process toward wisdom is to decide the journey you are on. Part of my journey is to help couples strengthen their marriages. During the first therapy session, after the couple have each told me their long laundry list of complaints, I will ask them “What do you want to do with this marriage?” Their answer tells me what I have to work with. If their desire is to build a lasting marriage, then I tell them that everything they do from that time on must fit that goal. The journey cannot be side-tracked in competition, proving the other wrong, or picking each other apart. The journey must be the guiding factor in all they do and their true desires will show in their actions.

Take a moment to contemplate the following three statements and see if you can see the knowledge in them, understand the principles, and see how you can wisely apply them in your marriage.

“If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got. Is that enough?” (Anonymous)

“The principles you live by create the world you live in. If you change the principles you live by you change your world.” (Blaine Lee, PhD The Power Principle, p. 1)

“Thou shalt love thy wife [husband] with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her [him] and none else.” (Doctrine & Covenants 42:22 italics added)

The journey of marriage is a righteous one. If you seek the knowledge of what it takes to build a marriage and look for the understanding of the principles needed, then, as you pray, the wisdom of what to do for your marriage will come little bit at a time. You will then build a legacy that will linger for generations to come, to bless your family and strengthen our nation.

[Gary Lundberg is a marriage and family therapist, his wife, Joy, is a song writer and author; they present marriage retreats, firesides and seminars and write books on creating happy relationship, see https://www.garyjoylundberg.com.]