Have you ever heard someone say, “the rockier and more painful your journey, the more insight you have to share”? But that’s not necessarily true, is it? I mean, there are subtle assumptions made from this perspective of gaining wisdom that will make you look foolish. The assumption is that, just because you have gone through an experience that you have gained wisdom from it.

Not true.

Time and experience don’t always lead to guaranteed wisdom. You can actually go to hell and back and not learn a thing. How many of us have watched people in our lives make the same mistake over and over and over? You watch them and it makes you want to pull your hair out because you just don’t understand why they don’t get it. It’s as if they’re going through this for the first time, when you’ve personally seen them go through it at least a handful of times.

Self-awareness is huge.

I’ve seen it time and time again, and to be honest with you I’ve also been that person who didn’t learn from past mistakes before. We all have this uncanny ability to miss the obvious.

Wisdom doesn’t seek to deflect truth. The quest for wisdom only begins when we accept the truth about our lives.

It’s been a year since my life was turned upside down in many ways. Going through a divorce, a major career change, and the inevitable loss of relationships that goes with both events.

In many ways, I kind of just want to celebrate that I’m still breathing- that I’m still alive and that somehow, I survived. But “survival” can’t be my only goal. I’d like to think that there are some major lessons I’ve learned from this rocky and painful journey that I can apply to my own life and maybe even share with others one day so that they can apply it to their life without having to go through all of those things.

So with that in mind, I created a little exercise for myself that I’ve been going through and I want to share it with you in hopes that it might be helpful to you as well. I heard someone say the other day, that “wisdom comes from asking the right questions.” So true, right? Wisdom doesn’t come from just going through hard things. Wisdom comes from asking the right questions when you’re going through those hard things.

I’d ask these questions if….

  • You’re going through, or have recently been through, a crisis.
  • You have a relationship falling apart or some kind of major conflict with someone.
  • You’re going through a job transition.
  • You feel stuck in some area of your life.

1. What can I own in what I’ve gone through?

You can’t be the victim forever. You can’t blame others forever. Psychologists call this “projection.” Projection is when people persistently blame others for their own failings. They view themselves as the chronic victims, refusing to accept personal responsibility for decisions that they alone made (and we all know that rarely is there only one person who has something they can own in situations like that). But no matter what you call it, it’s a surefire way to never accumulate wisdom and it certainly won’t breed anything deeply healing or positive in your life.

2. What will I do differently in the future so I don’t have to go through this again?

Is it possible you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong and the other person or just living in a broken world is to blame? Sure, it’s possible but it’s not likely. Most of the time when we go through painful things there is something we’ve contributed.

Again the focus here is what will “I” do different, not what should “they” do different. The problem with complaining and blaming is that complaining and blaming is energy spent that you could have spent asking questions- important questions that will lead to self-discovery, and specifically what you’re going to different next time you’re faced with something similar.

3. What was confirmed as true, and what did I think was true that I learned actually wasn’t?

For instance, maybe you thought that if you did “this” or did “that” nobody would love you anymore and you discovered that actually they still did. Maybe you thought you weren’t emotionally strong, but you discovered you had a lot more strength to overcome than you ever thought. Maybe you believed that God would be with you through absolutely anything, and now you know without a shadow of a doubt it’s true.

This question can go in lots of directions and probably has been the most difficult one for me to ask. Especially in regard to what I believe about God. My doubts in this season have taken me to the edge of a cliff. But not a cliff into God-less-ness. No, quite the contrary. But I have exchanged a lot of my childhood understandings of God for a more real and authentic faith. I learned that I need to forget a lot of what I had learned about God in order to embrace something deeper, something truer.  Unlearning is part of growing up. I read the other day that the number one expression in the Bible when people have divine encounters is “do not be afraid.” Why? Because these divine encounters can actually be scary as hell. This question will often leave you with more questions than answers. It’s a scary one to ask but ask it anyway.

4. Have I seen anyone else go through this before, or that is going through it now, that might be able to help me in my healing?

I’ve discovered that most wisdom comes in the context of community. While it’s wise to learn from your mistakes, it’s even better to learn from the mistakes of others.

Over the past year, I’ve had lunch with just about anyone I could who I thought had been through similar things. Some of them I knew well and others I kind of randomly called. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the people who not only met with me, but were willing to open up about their own pain in their life and what they learned from it.

I don’t care what it is that you’re going through- I guarantee you that there are people around you who have been through something similar. Their experience will be invaluable to you as you navigate and learn through your current circumstances.

I’m still in the process of working through these questions, but I feel just asking them is already helping me accumulate some wisdom and self-awareness that I could have, and likely would have, missed had they not been asked. I hope this will be helpful to you as well as you seek to learn from whatever it is you might be going through in this season.