By Sister Pat Kenny
“Grant me an understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:9)
David and his son Solomon enjoyed extraordinary friendships with God. They held frequent conversations, we’re told, and even though both men sinned grievously in their lifetimes, God did not let that destroy their friendship. What a lesson in the ways of God; what comforting reassurance for us.
In the reading 1 Kings 3:4-13, from which the above verse is taken, God invites Solomon to ask for something and Solomon seems to surprise God with his request. Unlike most mortals given the chance to ask for something extraordinary, Solomon asks for a seemingly simple gift, an understanding heart. He knows his father was a good ruler, often faced with difficult decisions and choices, and he wants to be like him. He might have asked for wisdom, surely a common request from persons in administrative roles, but he asks for a more nuanced gift.
What is the difference between wisdom and understanding? My reflection suggests that wisdom is a product of the mind; understanding comes from the heart. The gift of wisdom enables one to weigh, discern and filter information and evidence; then make wise choices and decisions. But the gift of understanding goes deeper: it considers the value, significance and consequence of wisdom shared. Wisdom is dispensed by the wise speaker or writer; understanding is shared by the sympathetic, perceptive and considerate listener.
In the end Solomon’s reputation rests on his wisdom, and sometimes that didn’t go too well. Like his father, he fell victim to hubris, that subtle sin that seems to shadow the powerful. So we take from his story what is meaningful to us—his desire to be a person who is both wise and understanding. Few among us are likely to think of ourselves as particularly wise, but we would like to believe we have understanding hearts. On this Valentine’s Day, let us rejoice in that, and let us pray for the grace to grow in the understanding of both others and ourselves and sharing that understanding generously and wisely.