I am not good at facts. Never have been. I can read and study for ages, and the facts and details elude my memory. I have always admired those who could rattle off reams of bible verses or scripture. Not for me. I can’t even remember half a dozen phone numbers. But I know that knowledge is important. I know there are lessons to be learned there.
So I dump more information in my mushy little brain than you can shake a stick at. I read. I study. But I don’t just read non‑fiction. I read fiction on the times and themes I am looking at. I read poetry centered on those same times and themes. I do it until my poor brain is bewildered and reeling. And then I stop.
The stopping is as important as the reading and learning. I stop. I let things settle. I start to see patterns develop. I develop what I call “a sense of things,” a set of principles that are largely, not perfectly, but largely true.
When I was working on my masters degree, I had to take a foreign language exam. I had to pass the exam to get my degree. And I did not prepare. Suddenly the exam was just weeks away and I had not looked at any French for, well… years. I knew I was doomed and that all the work I had done on my degree was about to be wasted.
Fortunately there were two french exchange students at Hollins who I had become friends with. And they decided I would not fail this exam. For two or three weeks, we spent large amounts of time together. We went out to eat. We shopped. We went for walks, and they only spoke french and only allowed me to speak french. At first I was hopelessly lost. Then it began to make sense, and when the exam time came, I did fine. That pattern has repeated itself again and again.
If I have a sense of things, of the spirit of a person and the facts of their life, or the trends in an industry, or the character of an organization, more times than not, I will be OK. Perfect? – No, but even armed with perfect knowledge we will make mistakes. But seeking the patterns in life, I will have, if not complete understanding, at least enough understanding that I can serve others well, serve myself well, and serve God well. I will have a sense of life.
And oddly, I seem to do as well, or better, than people armed with the facts. Maybe that is because, in the sifting, in the letting it all settle, I get a sense of what is important, and what is not. And that, my friend, has value, whether it’s in work, or business, or life, art and ministry.
Live well. Travel wisely,
Note: This is an excerpt from the original Wisdom Letters book.