Being OK With Not Knowing
A large part of becoming an adult for me has been coming to terms with the fact that there are many things I will never know or can never know. As a child, I envied grownups’ seemingly infinite ability to obtain knowledge. I started reading when I was four partially because I was so eager to know what everyone else knew. I will never forget the day I realized that I could now sightread signs we passed while driving, so I now knew exactly what all the shops were selling. I also vividly remember discovering that reading does not guarantee knowing everything like the very surprising revelation that the box labeled “SuperPretzel King Size Soft Pretzels” in the garage did not actually contain extra-large soft pretzels but Christmas decorations. (I was a very literal child.)
I have been on a relentless pursuit of knowledge and understanding ever since and it is very difficult for me when I hit the limits of what I can know. I cannot know why some people make decisions and do things that seem completely out of the bounds of logic. I do not know why evil flourishes even when the majority of people recognize it as evil and don’t like it. I will never understand why the world is not fair – why some people get more than they know what to do with, while others live their entire lives impoverished. There are some things about science, especially quantum physics, that I just cannot wrap my mind around no matter how hard I try. And I will probably never know why I have had the majority of the experiences in my life.
I am not someone often prone to regret, but the few regrets I do have are usually tied to not knowing things: I wish I had known it takes at least 12 hours for a frozen turkey to thaw, I would have taken it out of the freezer before Thanksgiving Day. I wish I had known that this film is a trauma trigger for my friend, I would not have suggested it. I wish I had known that in this culture snapping your fingers is rude, I would not have done it. I wish I had known my partner felt this way about this issue, I would have approached it differently.
I have had to learn to be ok with not knowing. It is difficult for me to say, “I don’t know.” I am still learning to leave some of my curiosity unsatisfied and find peace outside of certainty. I am still coming to grips with the fact that not knowing is part of being human. And I am very slowly starting to accept that maybe there is a measure of grace in a lack of omniscience.
So when I stumbled across this passage from Anne Lamott’s book “Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers” this past week, I had to read it a few more times:
Revelation is not for the faint of heart. Some of us with tiny paranoia issues think that so much information and understanding is being withheld from us – by colleagues, by family, by life, by God – knowledge that would save us, and help us break the code and enable us to experience life with peace and amusement. But in our quieter moments we remember that (a) there are no codes, and (b) if you are paying attention, plenty is being revealed. We are too often distracted by the need to burnish our surfaces, to look good so that other people won’t know what screwed-up messes we are, or our mate or kids or finances, are. But if you gently help yourself back to the present moment, you see how life keeps stumbling along and how you may actually find your way through another ordinary or impossible day. Details are being revealed, and they will take you out of yourself, which is heaven, and you will have a story to tell, which is salvation that again and again saves us, the way Jesus saves some people, or the way sobriety does. Stories to tell or hear – either way, it’s medicine. The Word.