As a young child of the 60’s, I loved the “Sword Drills” in my Baptist Church. We would grasp on to our Bibles with tense expectancy until the teacher would call out a verse to find. And off we would go, scrambling to find the golden page that won us points, a certain amount of notoriety, and, at the end of the round, a rolled up string of licorice. (“Honey, do you want black or red?”) It was through those sword drills that I first leapt up and read, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.” (This verse, embedded deeply in the pages of Psalm 119, was one of my teacher’s particular favorites…it was hard to find.)
The powerful images in this verse (Ps 119:105) have stuck with me long past the season of sword drills and licorice ropes. For years I have envisioned my shoes with flashlights attached to them—guiding me through moments w here there is just enough light to see where to place my other foot. And gradually, over the forty-some years since I first looked up that verse, I have come to know the grounded truth of this hidden treasure.
I am walking through an intense “just enough light for the foot I’m on” season. It is a moment that has filled me with panic for the safety of a loved one. I have been sorely tempted to cast myself headlong into the swirling confusion of the situation, wanting to take control of “something”—irrespective of the fact that I have had no idea what that “something” actually might be if I got there.
But I have another set of familiar companions that do not override the light of God’s word leading my flashlight lit feet, but always come rushing to my aid in the midst of panic-stricken times. The saints of old named them “Temperance” and “Prudence.” They feast at the table Wisdom has prepared ever since she laid out the banquet (Proverbs 9). For me, I think of these companions by their more approachable names of “Self Control” and “Practical Wisdom.” Sword drills meet sages when they come to my aid, and in their long-standing presence I find close frien ds for the journey when the sky is inky black and I am desperately afraid.
Self-Control always arrives first, coming firmly to my side with Wisdom’s words: “You have never been failed when you wait until the light is shed on your other foot. The extremity of your present circumstances does not change what you know to be true. Yes, the stakes are very high: wait until you know what to do before you do anything. Trust the God who has always given you the light you need when the time is right.”
Did I mention that Self-Control is not my favorite of Wisdom’s sisters? Here is the fundamental battle in my soul: to wait to act until I know clearly what to do next. This stance is radically different than attempting to convince myself that I really do see light when it is still pitch black in and outside my own soul. So, time and time again, my frantic hearts fights a futile battle against Self-Control, until Wisdom’s sister inevitably conquers, and I return to my right mind and wait for my more beloved of Wisdom’s sisters, Prudence, to appear on the scene. And always, Practical Wisdom finally shows up. She is frequently the most longed-for of Wisdom’s kin, and the one that always seems to live the farthest away. I rather suspect that Self-Control always has to calm me down first, and then texts PW’s celestial cell phone before she will make her entrance. But I am always so grateful when Practical Wisdom arrives. She’s rather quiet, and always says the same thing,“this is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).
And then I take the firm steps that are now in the light—sometimes one, sometimes several. When I get to the edge of where I can see, I find Self Control waiting with a smile and firm hug. “Stop. No further now. We’ll have to wait until the road gets a bit more light.” And, while the tangible, obvious battle wages fiercely around our heads, I sit down with Wisdom’s kin and rest, reminded again that what I learned all those many years ago in Baptist Vacation Bible School is never more true than now: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.”
This particular road is getting a bit lighter, and it seems that I am being given a broader beam of light to know what to do for awhile. But in this moment, this I know that I know. I would not be here if Wisdom’s other kin had not first come to “hem me in, behind and before” (Psalm 139:5). And here another of Wisdom’s familiar sisters come to join us. For Wisdom’s handmaiden, Humility, loves to join hands with Temperance and Prudence. Now. Really. Thanks be to God for the timely creativity of his Spirit and his gifts.