“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.”
I bet we’ve all got stories of learning the hard way.
When I was a teen, I was told that sun bathing wasn’t good for my skin. I passed right on by that warning and though not even 40 yet, I’ve got age spots on my face that my children have kindly named by continent.
I was told that candy wasn’t good for me, but I disregarded that warning too. In the summer between Grades 9 & 10, I worked at a camp where we ate buckets of decadent, peanut butter & chocolate treats each day while working at the stables. I went from being undefeated in the 300 meter hurdles in Grade 9 to never winning a race in Grade 10.
Ghastly consequences? No. But unnecessary? Yes.
I guess I had to learn the hard way. Or did I…?
One of the great benefits of studying God’s wisdom is that an honest look will demolish our wrong thinking, no matter how prevalent or widely accepted it is. Today’s verse accomplishes that for us when it comes to the idea of “having to learn the hard way.”
We use this popular expression in reference to people who make bad decisions and suffer negative consequences as a result. And it’s usually phrased as if this tendency belongs to the category of innate and unalterable attributes:
- Her hair has been curly since the day she was born.
- Math has always come easily to him.
- She’s just one of those people who have to learn the hard way.
To that school of thought, may I respectfully say…
Nonsense. Phooey. Rubbish.
No one has to learn the hard way. We choose to learn the hard way.
Our verse indicates an evident danger but two very different responses to it. The wise woman sees the danger and makes adequate provisions to protect herself from it. The simple woman carries on with no regard for the warning and then suffers the consequences. So the factor that determines whether or not someone learns the hard way is simply whether they are wise or foolish. And since being wise or foolish is a choice we make*, learning the hard way, by extension, is also a choice.
I’ll get on my soapbox and say that I think it’s time to stop perpetuating the message, especially to our younger generations, that “learning the hard way” is written in our DNA like our eye colour and height.
Because it’s not.
It’s a choice. A choice that reveals either our wisdom or our simple-mindedness. Learning the hard way is not cool. It’s not tough. And it’s certainly not something to boast about.
It labels us a fool. It exposes a deficiency of wisdom. And it sentences us to many scars we would otherwise not have to bear.
This is a hard truth to realize. And as someone who wants to deliver grace, that’s tough for me to write. But perhaps the most grace-giving messages we can hear are the ones that rescue us from destructive patterns of thinking that keep us far from God’s best.
No matter what your past, make no mistake that learning the hard way is not who you are. It is a choice.
And from this point forward, by God’s grace and wisdom, it’s a choice you never have to make again.
* Proverbs 1:20-23, 2: 1-6, 8:1-5, 17