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The Wisdom Pattern

Written by John Wright

7 minutes

How do we grow?

How do we gain wisdom?

How do we end up in the most fruitful, joyful places in life?

In his book The Wisdom Pattern, Richard Rohr reminds us that growth follows a pattern. The pattern repeats itself over and over in our lifetime. It often rotates areas or topics. Sometimes it’s our career, often it’s our relationships, our children, our marriages.

If we are being honest, there are times looking back where this pattern has helped us and brought us far. There are also times where it sucked, was hard, and we just wanted to go back to the way things were.

Regardless of where you are or what you remember, this pattern is a powerful reminder of how we gain wisdom, transformation, and growth.

  • Things begin in the known.
  • They move through pain, loss, and chaos.
  • Finally, they land in the new restored and redeemed place.

We are forever changed through this process. Of course, the process of being born again to growth only happens if it is preceded by something dying. There must be an end to be a new beginning. There must be darkness so we can know how good the light feels.

There is an arc to our human story. It is the story of our external world. It is also true in our spiritual story or the story of our soul and our internal world. It is always going on in some area of our life whether we want it to or not. And it repeats itself over and over again.

Rohr states, “Whenever we’re led out of normalcy and what is known to a new open space, it’s going to feel like suffering, because it is letting go of what we’re used to. This is always painful at some level. But part of us must end if we are ever to grow larger. If we’re not willing to let go and die to our small, false self, we won’t enter any new or open space.”¹

There is a Wisdom Pattern for transformation and change. It occurs in three stages:

Order > Disorder > Reorder

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A sense of “Order” is the easiest and most natural way to begin; it is a needed first “container.” It contains everything we know for sure. Our titles, degrees, net worth. It is the places we fought so hard to get. These structures mostly have been good things. Business owner, father/mother, entrepreneur, investor. But this structure is limiting and even dangerous if we stay in its safe confines too long. It is small and self-serving. It doesn’t know the full picture, but it thinks it does.


Order must be deconstructed by the trials, mysteries, and disruptions of life. We must go through a period of “Disorder” to grow up. Disorder often feels like chaos. It feels like it is pervasive, permanent, and powerful. Disorder is when we ask, “Could this cup of suffering please just pass us by?” We really want to go back to the Order and the status quo that we know. We admit that “it’s just too hard.”  I wonder, in the midst of a long painful labor, does a mother just feel like stopping and postponing the whole ordeal for another time? Maybe it’s only the hope of a new life that the mom holds on to? The hope of a new life is sometimes just enough to get us through the darkness. While we know these painful seasons of disorder lead to new life, sometimes it just feels like the future is just too foggy or the pain and potential loss is so great, and we retreat to the old place of Order. We tell ourselves, “The status quo is fine,” or “We don’t have it as bad as some people,” or “What are we complaining about?”


Only in the final “Reorder” stage can darkness and light coexist, can paradox be okay. We are finally at home in the only world that ever existed. This is true and contemplative knowing. Here death is a part of life, failure is a part of victory, and imperfection is included in perfection. Opposites collide and unite; everything belongs.

We dare not get rid of our pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. Most wisdom traditions or religions give answers too quickly. They dismiss pain too easily and seek to be distracted—to maintain some ideal Order. So, we must resist the instant fix and acknowledge ourselves as beginners to be open to true transformation. In the great spiritual traditions, the wounds to our ego are our teachers and are to be welcomed. They should be paid attention to, not denied, or even perfectly resolved.

Once we can learn to live in this third spacious place, neither fighting nor fleeing reality but holding the creative tension, we are in the spacious place of grace, out of which all newness comes.

There is no direct flight from Order to Reorder. You must go through Disorder. It is difficult to be sure, but worth it.




1. What are the places in your life (business, heart, soul, relationships) that are in:

  • Order: Structured/safe/known/comfortable/certain/stable but not growing?
  • Disorder: Unsure/painful/fearful/uncomfortable/unknown future/foggy/nagging/exhausting/avoiding/ending
  • Reorder: Being or are restored/have transformed/through/redeemed/miraculous/new

2. Which things ,if you are being honest, do you want to go from Disorder back to order instead of moving to a brand new but unknown place? Which ones do you want to just go away so things can go back to “normal”?

3. When you are in Disorder (chaos, uncertainty, exhaustion, numbness, fear) and you haven’t quite moved on yet to the new place, what has helped you to tolerate it? What has helped you neutralize the fear? What has kept your head up above water?

  • What do you do?


¹ Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2001).

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