Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Proverbs 3:13-15
I'm a sucker for alliteration so last night, as 2016 lazily rolled over into 2017, I came up with the phrase “Nothing false, phony or fabricated this year; just the truth in 2017, please!” Honestly? I have no idea where it came from. It just jumped into my mind and onto a page as I journaled about the Ultimate Endurance Test that 2016 was for me. Fittingly, unwittingly, a friend encouraged me to read Proverbs 3:13-15 (quoted above) a few hours later. So, during these early hours of 2017, I’ve been thinking almost exclusively about the value of experiential wisdom – lessons I learned from 2016. One lesson in particular is a true pearl that 2017 can't possibly live without.
What strikes me most about the verse above are the words “find” and “gain.” Neither word gives me the impression of haphazard passivity. Action is implied. Process and intention are required to find or gain anything. You find a lost piece of jewelry after launching a well-planned, well-executed search. The fact that your search may or may not turn your room into a hazmat-certified disaster area is irrelevant. You gain fitness after committing to regular exercise and intentionally living healthy – decisions must be made, processes must be implemented, movement and action must take place in order to find or gain anything.
So what processes are required to find the wisdom we need for 2017? I suspect it’s through the deliberate and careful framing (sometimes, re-framing) of our most meaningful experiences in 2016. Experiential wisdom. When we gently reflect on our most meaningful experiences from last year, even if they’re painful, we concretize their wisdom and make serious gains in our personal development, thereby increasing our effectiveness within our families and in our relationships – most importantly, in our relationship with ourself. Of course, our most meaningful experiences don’t always have to be big and public – it’s not always the televised marriage proposal that hits us hardest in the gut.
For me, the most meaningful experiences of 2016 came in quiet moments. One in particular hit the deepest. It was early on a Saturday morning. I had training a bit later that day, so I could spend the morning thinking. I lay flat on my back, on a queen-sized bed I didn’t buy, but inherited from the previous resident of this North-Carolina-State-University-owned apartment. With my head on a thin, also-inherited pillow just beneath my bedroom windowsill, I listened to the frenzied chatter of what must have been thousands of invisible birds inhabiting a forest of gargantuan Great Oak trees 10-12 feet away from my third floor window. These were trees so thick and wide around, so ramrod straight, and so old, that they were imposing; trees so numerous that they seemed like an army of Goliaths assembled in tight formation; trees so close to my third floor window, that I often thought I could reach out and touch one. Lying on that bed, flat on my back, my trusty (little but fierce!) Shih-Zu lay next to me, her tiny body providing warmth to my right thigh and comfort to my soul. I quietly thought about my year of training.
When I thought about all of the pain the year had brought: physical pain from my Achilles and emotional pain from the slow, arduous, seeming endless recovery from surgery, psychological pain (mixed with numbness) from daily abuse in any/all flavors from a power-drunk coach, and spiritual pain from fearing I would let myself, my God (who gave me this talent), and a cloud of supportive witnesses down if I under-performed and did not reach my goal, I became even more still. And somehow, despite the constant, silent tears that burned their way down both sides of my face, leaking cold salt puddles into my ears as they followed gravity’s plumb line, I was able to make a decision. A single, silent decision. I needed to leave. I needed to leave, and I would do so that weekend.
No more abuse. No more false, phony or fabricated lies about this being “what it takes” to achieve my goal or my being “too sensitive” about my daily dose of belittling insults; no more passive acceptance that this hell was “the normal training environment for most pros,” something to be tolerated, appreciated and even embraced. No more believing that this was “all [my] fault,” that I “deserved” everything I got because I was “provocative” and “made [him] change.” I decided that whatever potential glory lay on the other side of that horror show, I was content to skip the ending and save myself by walking out of the theater. No more. In that quiet moment, I stood up for myself, for my soul, for my joy, and though I was deeply terrified of the achievement-related implications, I was resolute. Somehow, quietly, I was resolute.
Sure, it was already springtime and clearly “too late” to make a significant change like this. Sure, I would lose momentum with my training, fall even further behind my competition schedule and all but extinguish my competitive edge, and with it, chances of qualifying for my team. Sure. But walking away would also mean choosing myself over everything else, over my dream, over my people-pleasing tendencies, over brilliant friends and colleagues explaining the insanity of a last-minute change like this.
In 2017, I can finally see that moment as one of strength and I'm no longer embarrassed by the fallout of that decision. I’d simply come to a place where I desired, above everything else, truth and wisdom -- and love. And there was a process involved in finding that quiet wisdom, a journey that preceded the opportunity to gain understanding about loving myself. And despite the tremendous amount that I lost, the wisdom I gained was more profitable than a silver medal could ever be, indeed, it yielded better returns than a gold – it gave me back me. So what became of the resolve I marshaled in that quiet moment? It’s still here. Hell, it was hard-fought, it'd better be. And it’s roots run as deep as those Great Oaks,’ because they were laid down slowly, quietly, and consistently over time, watered by too many tears to count like my invisible birds flitting about my touchable forest. Make no mistake: when the roots (of a truth, of a relationship, of anything) are deep, you don’t have to worry about life’s winds. Finding the truth of my own value, strength and worthiness; and gaining the understanding that I have a right (as do we all!) to safe relationships built on joy, sincere and mutual respect, authenticity, and love, free from all forms of harassment and abuse… This was indeed a truth worth finding.
This nugget of wisdom is perhaps the most precious gemstone I am bringing with me into 2017.