Watch out, graduating students. Your faculty may give you some brief words of advice.
“Brief words?” wondered my colleague P. “How can you summarize the Biblical Book of Proverbs in one sentence?
I had a ready answer: “Listen to your mother.”
Because I do believe that is the teaching of the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings that teaches readers about the nature of wisdom. Proverbs tells us:
Wisdom, a female figure, has been around a very long time. God couldn’t create until connecting with her. During creation, she acted as a kind of nanny, reminding God to laugh and play in the world (Proverbs 8:22-31).
That same Wisdom calls to people everywhere. “Be intelligent! Be practical! Be noble! Be good!” she says. “Your inner qualities are more important than material things. Jewels are beautiful, yes; I’m not against you having some. But wisdom is even better than jewels” (Proverbs 8:1-11).
In real life, wisdom looks like a real woman. She has to learn every practical and spiritual skill. She spins and weaves and sews. She also manages money. And counsels people. She teaches. She is wise. She is kind. She is better than jewels. She holds her family together, and they know it (Proverbs 31:10-31).
She is the Great Mother.
Many of us were raised by mothers –- but few by such a Great Mother. If we were very lucky, we were raised by a Good Enough Mother. Maybe she made our clothing, but had little money to manage. Maybe she taught us much but loved us little. Maybe she gave great advice but was a terrible cook.
My own mother was Good Enough — and she was a jewel. Life’s stresses scarred her, but she minimized her scars. “I don’t have any problems,” she said. “I mean, I have some problems that are so big they are the foundation of my life – but I don’t have any problems.”
When I complained about my own problems, she would say kindly:
“Are you finding life hard? Don’t worry, it’s a developmental stage.”
“Are you anxious about succeeding? Get some perspective – you’re only the millionth, billionth, trillionth person to have done this.”
“Do you want to connect every time? When you see the ball coming, get yourself in place first, and then swing.”
Graduating students, listen to my mother.
Image: Ruthie Duhan, Laura Duhan Kaplan, Hillary Kaplan, 1994.