I'm really tired of shallow wisdom and bad advice, despite dishing out plenty of what I think is profound or helpful on a regular basis. I'm guilty of posting pithy quotes and ponderings on Instagram and Facebook too, but the truth is, they are pretty meaningless without explaining their context and relevance to my life.
Someone let me down recently and in the way good girlfriends do, they rallied around with plenty of advice. Some of it was terrible. Some of it was OK.
Here's an observation: when the pressure and pain pushes in on you from the outside, don't look out there to find an answer, or to resolve the pain. Look within. Pithy quotes and inspirational verses will soothe you briefly, but they won't help you grow. Quoting is not the same as living and you can only live from deep down inside yourself.
Running the risk of hypocrisy
I'm going to run the risk of hypocrisy by criticising someone who does what I do. I read a blog post this week. It was largely a collection of quotes from authors, actors and musicians, and lots of comment around how this person is reshaping their life—mostly to do with dating and relationships. Then I read the comments. People were writing things like:
'You're so brave and inspiring, you're really challenging me to live better.'
'You're so wise, these words are so powerful.'
'I'm gonna stick this on my wall, it's such a life-changing perspective.'
Here's another observation: it was mostly drivel. Quotes about how God's promises are for you, that your dreams will come true, followed by pithy sayings about being bold, being patient and being a princess. Things that sound good but are actually pretty empty.
Without context, those statements might temporarily make you feel better, but they lack lasting, soul-restoring truth. A relationship with God shapes the desires of our heart—that we might receive them. That verse from Proverbs isn't about getting anything, it's about how we are molded and aligned to God. Without context and understanding it is shallow wisdom, scratching the surface. If we feed ourselves on something that sounds like it might be true but really isn't we'll never understand what true wisdom looks like.
What wisdom really looks like
As a kid, I was convinced that wisdom—being both head smart and heart smart—was the greatest thing to aspire to. I had read in the Bible that Solomon had prayed for wisdom and God gave it to him. So I asked for the same, every night for years. Actual years, where I also devoured daily, weekly, monthly, the Book of Proverbs and Psalms, the minor and major prophets, and Ecclesiastes. The places where wisdom is hidden in the words.
Proverbs weren't just the Jewish beliefs of the time. They formed part of a broader collection of 'Wisdom Books', a collected wisdom of humanity as it was known at the time. I believe still, that if you read the wisdom books, you'll begin to recognise truth. You read the Psalms—you'll understand the human experience and collision with divinity. Then, when you really know what wisdom sounds like, you can meet Jesus in the Gospels and easily recognise what wisdom looks like, too.
Wise people are not always quite as quotable as they appear. Wisdom is full of paradox and mystery. This and that, not this or that. Wisdom in action is much more about navigating complex situations than the ability to give a pithy answer.
Wisdom is found deep within, where God-in-us resides and is at work. The best advisor you can engage with is the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who is within you.
Wisdom is not shouting off the rooftops or emblazoned on Instagram posts (but yes, I do that too!). Wisdom is there for those who seek it, because you'll be ready to hear and receive it.
So when you encounter pain or pressure, when growth is required—resist the urge to look outside for a meme-worthy answer. Resist shallow wisdom that sounds great but is meaningless. Learn to go deep within. Pain and pressure can be like a compass leading to the truth just below the discomfort. Go to that place and find something true underneath it.
Tash McGill is a digital strategist by day. That means helping people make smart decisions about all things digital. Her passion is people and communicating ideas that shape our world, especially the world of young people. Formerly a youth worker and theologian, Tash is passionate about identity and spiritual formation alongside a healthy dose of hospitality.
Tash McGill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/tash-mcgill.html