A good pastor friend of mine recently asked me what good and/or bad comments had been expressed to me regarding the loss of my wife Mary. I understood what he meant as I had recently read a book entitled, “Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart” by Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk, the co-founder of Stephen Ministries, an organization of long-term, confidential caregivers for hurting people. In it he gives advice on how to minister to people who have experienced the loss of a loved one, including what to say, what not to say and preferably to do more listening than talking. Many things that are said actually increase the pain, rather than helping to alleviate it. The best thing you can offer someone is just your presence if they want and need it and allowing them to talk if they want to.
I have been very fortunate to be associated with a host of people who have known both me and my wife, some for a number of years. They nearly all told me how much they had loved and appreciated Mary and how much they also missed her. I don’t remember anyone offering me any ill-chosen platitudes. And they have been there when I needed someone to talk to.
That being said, Shane’s question also got me to thinking about the value of sound advice. As the Scripture says,
“Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” (Proverbs 15:22 NKJV)
So I thought about the positive and negative advice I have received from people over the years. Once again, in thinking back over my life to date, I can say that on the whole I have received more good than bad advice, some of which I have ignored to my own peril. The worst advice my wife and I ever received came from our friends at church who, in the Fall of 1973, told us we should forget about my leaving my chosen career behind and moving from the DFW area to Baton Rouge, Louisiana so Mary could begin her career in academia. Their only reason being that in doing so we would be “violating divine order.” Had we taken this advice we would have missed out on the challenging and rewarding journey on which the Lord lead us for the next 44 years. Fortunately, as we described in “Spiritual Entrepreneurship – Fulfilling Your God-Ordained Destiny”, we sought further guidance by making out a list of all the reasons we could think of for making the move and another list of all the reasons for not going and sharing them with our pastor. He briefly scanned the list and without a moment’s hesitation said, “What are you waiting for? The only reasons you have for not going are emotional, not practical. You have much to gain and very little to lose by taking this opportunity. I hate to see you leave, but my advice for you is to go.” And so our life of adventure began in earnest.
Nine years later, with Mary and me both firmly established in our careers (mine being in a different field from the original), we were considering leaving Baton Rouge just as Mary was about to become a tenured professor in order to take on a new challenge in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This time our current pastor told us he thought this was not a good idea. We decided to go in spite of his advice. Then when we got to Virginia Beach and started looking for a house, our realtor advised us not to purchase, but to rent, until we were certain we would be there for the long haul. Once again we ignored the advice and purchased a new home with the final closing contingent on the sale of our home in Baton Rouge. A year later our Baton Rouge home was still not sold, and since we could not close on the sale on the Virginia Beach home, we were forced to move out into a rental property as we had been previously advised. After making two house payments for a year we had nothing to show for it. Shortly after that our Baton Rouge home finally sold, but within the next few months I lost my job. Then, after I had gone without a salary for 12 months, we decided to move back to the DFW area. Fortunately we had not tried to buy another home. Lesson learned (the hard way).
A word of caution here. It is important that we not ignore good advice, but it is equally important that we not accept and act on bad advice. Good advice can help us avoid costly mistakes, while taking bad advice can be disastrous. Two good examples of this are found in the Bible.
The 3rd chapter of I Kings records that when Solomon was made king of Israel he asked God to give him a discerning heart to govern the people and to distinguish between right and wrong. God was pleased with this request and granted Solomon not only a wise and discerning heart but also wealth and honor and long life. So Solomon became arguably the wisest and richest man who ever lived.
In spite of this, however, in the later years of his life he became jaded and wrote:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 NIV)
Then he listed all of his great accomplishments and said:
“I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?
I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.
The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.
Then I said to myself, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.”
For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die!
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 NIV)
This negative attitude clouded his mind and caused him to lose perspective. And in the process he lost his love for God and God’s ways.
“King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.
They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.
He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.
As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” (I Kings 11:1-4 NIV)
So in the end it was said of him:
“Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women.” (Nehemiah 13:26 NIV)
And Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, who succeeded him on the throne of Israel fared even worse than his father. When he was made king the people of Israel came to him and said:
“Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”
Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away. Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked. They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”
But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. He asked them, “What is your advice? … The young men who had grown up with him replied, “These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’ ”
That is exactly what he did, and as a result all but two of the tribes of Israel revolted against him and those ten tribes chose Jeroboam as their king. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to David’s royal line which ruled from Jerusalem. The ten northern tribes disdained Jerusalem and set up their own capital and established a new center of worship in Shiloh.
After this split the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah fought periodic wars against one another and both were eventually conquered by foreign armies and their inhabitants carried away into captivity in foreign lands. Truly disastrous results from following bad advice.
As for me my wife Mary was my wisest counselor, as she knew me best. Throughout our marriage she continued to both challenge and encourage me to become the best that I could be. I am who I am today largely because of her. And now that she is no longer with me, I am fortunate enough to have several people who have known me for a number of years and who provide the same kind of challenge and encouragement. I have come to seek and ponder their advice before making any important decisions. And my life is better because of them.