Recently, while I was out on a run, a fellow church member saw me. The next day, she commented, “Boy, Doug, with that black runner’s hat you wear your grey hair really stands out!” And all this time I had hoped that the hat would cover it up! As I contemplated this reality of aging, I thought about the fact that age is not automatically associated with wisdom. But it should be. Proverbs 16:31 instructs us, “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness.”
I am characteristically a pretty black-and-white kind of guy. Some may characterise this as a chapter-and-verse approach to life, and others, well, they would just say that I am narrow. But having confessed this characteristic, nevertheless I also have come to appreciate over the years that there are also issues that might be termed “grey.” In fact, the greyer my hair turns, the more I am learning to appreciate the need to use my grey matter in working through tough issues. Wisdom is more challenging than chapter-and-versing every challenging circumstance. Further, wisdom requires some hard thinking. The older we get, the more nuanced our various experiences of life become. And though many things remain clearly black-and-white, some things do seem to put forth the hue of grey.
One particular area in which grey is wise is related to the desire to fix what is broken. This is a particularly difficult thing for me to handle. You see, I struggle with aspiring to fix people’s problems. If my wife, children, a fellow church member or some other friend is facing a struggle, I want to provide the solution. But why? That is a really important question. And if properly considered, it can also be a very revealing one as well—perhaps even painfully revealing. In fact, it may in some cases reveal folly rather than wisdom.
I don’t doubt that in many situations I desire to fix things because I love those who are experiencing some kind of brokenness. When those I love are experiencing some hardship, I want to help to bear their burdens. That is often a good thing. For example, many physicians are driven to the persistent practice of their vocation because they care. Those are the best kind. They are willing to go the extra mile to help ease the pain. Think, for instance, of the doctor who, after recovering, from Ebola is now back in Sierra Leone ministering to those so afflicted. Love would seem to be the motive.
And so, yes, we who aim to fix are often driven by a compelling love. I hope to be increasingly so motivated.
But the desire to fix can sometimes tempt a guy like me to become fixated on fixing. The result is that I make try to find a proof text to solve the challenge, but I may come up short. If someone needs a word of instruction about making a career or geographic move, for instance, I will most likely not find a particular verse that will confirm yea or nay. Rather, in between the black letters and the white spaces in my Bible, I will look for the grey of solid biblical principles. In the end, I will advise, “Based on these principles, you should consider this as you make the decision.” In most cases, that is grey being wise. Those I am seeking to help will learn to work through biblical principles, and we will both learn to trust our loving and sovereign Father as decisions are made. In other words, when grey is wise, the aging saint has learned, and is continuing to learn, that he or she does not always have to fix things. God can run the universe quite well without our supposed infallible interpretation of every situation having been proof texted.
But there is another point that must be reckoned with when it comes to grey wisdom: Sometimes those, like myself, who are keen to fix can actually be motivated by pride and/or the fear of man.
The desire to be the “answer man” lurks within the heart of those called to lead. And when that is the motive, folly is not far behind. The truth is that we (I) need to be willing to say, at times, “I don’t know.” That is wisdom.
I learned from a wise man several decades ago the value of silence when coming alongside a burdened believer. I was at the hospital with my pastor as he sat with a grieving couple who had just experienced a death in their family. I watched this shepherd as he said very little, but his caring presence communicated comfort. Sometimes people are not looking for advice or explanations. That is good, because oftentimes their heartache is inexplicable. Wisdom knows when silence is golden.
Closely related to this is the matter of the fear of disappointing others. We desire to say the helpful thing and to be of use to help to relieve the burdened or to calm the perplexed. But there is not always a specific text or a specific answer to assuage the beleaguered. Will they then not be disappointed in us? Perhaps. But when grey is wise, it will point the person to specific truths about the character of God—and such theology will go a long way towards building them up in the faith, even in the absence of specific answers for their specific problems. After all, when you know the one who knows everything, you (and I) don’t need to know everything.
Finally, and to head in a bit of a different direction, the text in Proverbs reminds us that being grey and being wise is conditional. Solomon said that the grey head is “a crown of glory” (that is, it is respected for wisdom) only “if it is found in the way of righteousness.” In other words, the silver-haired head must have its roots coloured by godly character. And when that is the case, such an individual is worthy to be heeded.
Being old does carry with it the expectation to be shown respect (Leviticus 19:32), yet it does not automatically earn one the right to be heard and heeded. The former is rooted in chapter-and-verse, while the latter is earned over the course of time and trials in which other chapters and verses are obeyed. We need a track record if we will be considered trustworthy. And this is “earned” by faithfulness to the Lord in the varied crucibles of life. Godly character is developed over time. It is this righteousness of testimony in which one’s silver hair is to be displayed.
This should be the goal of every Christian, and the earlier one begins to develop and display such practical righteousness, the more likely their eventual grey head will be of benefit to others. And there is no time like the present to prepare to grow grey. And so seek the Lord, regardless of your age. There is coming a day when a generation will follow who will need your wisdom.
May we keep before us the reality that there is a world of difference—and a potential world of influence—that depends on whether grey is merely old or wise.