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The young, and the rest of us

By Jeff Smith
Special to The PREVIEW

The wisdom of Solomon is a great way to raise kids.

It helps adults, too.

As the sun comes up and the coffee is brewing, I am looking at a verse from Solomon’s wisdom in the Bible and get to relive a very pleasant memory.

Our firstborn was 8 and he had just learned that if you tell a lie, it can get you out of trouble. So, after a few false starts, I tried this idea to deal with it. We sat down with the book of Proverbs at bedtime, skipping the longer, more adult passages in the first nine chapters.

I opened up to chapter 10, verse one, and read this:

Proverbs 10:1 “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.” KJV

“Do you know what this means?” I said.

“No.”

“Well, I think it means that when you do wise things, your mom and I are happy about it and when you do something foolish, we feel bad.”

That was it. He went to bed with plans for us to go over the next verse the next night.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, a thought occurred that I had just done something very good.

I didn’t get it quite right of course, thinking about it later. Solomon’s writings, like so much of scripture, are like the famous Greek Trojan Horse. There is a safe, surface level to them and at that point they are fine, helpful tools. We think we get it. Once they get inside, though, they start to go places and do things, good things, we didn’t expect.

So, why does the mom feel sad when junior does bad and the dad glow when things go great?

Solomon was pointing out that the genders tend to differ on these things, and may be polar opposites on how they respond to problems.

Moms may worry too much and dads not enough, the truth being in the middle someplace.

So, there is insight here that is good for a little boy or girl (the word “son” implies both), to know. We didn’t see it at the time, but at least he heard it. Solomon also explains certain concepts by standing one idea against another and asking us to see how they differ, so he has given us a very short lesson in logic. It didn’t cover the subject of telling the truth, but we’d get to it in time.

One can also turn this verse around a little bit. While it would make sense for a parent to sit down with their child and tell them to be wise, couldn’t this also be aimed at the parents, telling them that they need to teach a child to live his or her life wisely in order to avoid problems? Sure.

But, if this is also for parents, what about the single moms in the group? There might not be a dad in the picture to balance out what the mom says.

A little research tells me that the term “father” in the Hebrew can also refer to a male head of the clan, like a grandfather, or to a child’s teacher.

The term “mother” has a second meaning as well, and it doesn’t point to a female teacher, although scripture supports the idea that both genders teach. It can refer to Israel, or the child’s community where they are raised.

So, this wise saying, at its final level, is aimed at all of us. Child, dad, mom, family leader, teachers, church and village — all of these are to commit to the idea that children should be taught to manage life well. If we, as a group, do a great job with this, there will be much to glow over.

Fail, and it’s not pretty.

Teaching the wisdom scriptures is not about rules like “be nice to your sister” or “pick up the things in your room.” They are meant to give insight to children and parents, to teachers and the community, to make things run better. They reach across cultural, ethnic and even religious lines and tap into our common desire for a good life. Wisdom is an ancient teaching concept that we just don’t do much anymore, at least not to the level Solomon takes it.

In light of the pressure on kids to do foolish things, it deserves a full comeback.

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This story was posted on December 2, 2013.