4 Things I’m Glad I Don’t Know for Sure

February 21, 2012
By

q markFor years, on the last page of the ‘O’ magazine, Oprah Winfrey has written a column she calls: “What I know for sure.”  Today, I’m doing just the opposite.

In a reading for my “Spirituality and Health” class, I highlighted this phrase:

“Prior to conception, the soul exists as a drop of water in the Sea of Being.1

I liked the poetry of it.  But as I mentioned it later in class, I wasn’t sure I liked it as much.  My friend Tricia, a pastor and author who is also in the class, asked, “What if instead of ‘Sea of Being’ it said ‘mind of God’?”

The exchange invited me to revisit those things I FOR-SURE-know, and those things I FAITH-know.  Now some would argue these to be one in the same, and they wouldn’t be wrong.  When one has deeply-rooted faith, the beliefs it inspires and empowers are held in the mind and the spirit with absoluteness, even in the absence of “evidence.”

“Faith is the essence of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.2

And yet there is a difference, a precious difference.  In my ponderings, I have developed a list of four things that I’m glad I don’t know for sure.

Their allure is in part their mystery.

The complete knowledge and understanding of truly grand realities could lead to fear instead of hope, to a sense of being overwhelmed instead of being inspired.

I remember one of the first times I stood on a Caribbean beach with a Ugandan friend who had never before seen the sea.  “It’s so big.  It’s so big.”  That’s all he could say.  Imagine if we could truly fathom all of the seas!  Their immensity alone would surpass our comprehension, and that which now is understood as beautiful and powerful would become daunting.  Many of those things I FAITH-know are like that.

That’s why I’m glad I don’t know for sure:

1)      What heaven really is, what comes next.

“Eyes have not seen and ears have not heard all that God has prepared3.”

One of my favorite dinner-party questions is “How does your faith benefit you?”  As I endeavor to keep diversity in my life (click here to read about why I value diversity), I often find at least one person at the table who says, “I am an atheist.  I don’t have faith.”  To which I respond, “But you believe in what you cannot prove, and that requires faith.”  So I ask again, “How does your faith benefit you?”

The answer almost always has to do with a notion that they feel they can be more “present,” more focused on the here and now—since this is all there is.  While I don’t fully connect with that need, I feel that the mystery of heaven allows us to do something similar.  If we truly understood what comes next, wouldn’t we rush to get there—missing so much of the wonder of this human experience—which we must need in preparation for what comes next?

2)     What came before.

Was I a drop in the Sea of Being, or a thought in the mind of God (which is what we can FAITH-know)?

What difference does it make?  A pure knowledge of that would likely crowd my already complicated ways of thinking and of making-meaning.  There is so much to do today and tomorrow, and there is already enough past for me to carry with heartache and grief, joy and nostalgia.  I don’t need more.  (Yet.)

3)     The immediate future.

How tempting it is to try to predict the future.  And yet how terribly troubling.  Again the wonder of the unknown is magical enough for me.  As it is, I can’t wait to go out to dinner with a friend next week, and I can’t wait to see my kids in a few days, and I can’t wait to finish my degree.  If I had a much longer list of things I couldn’t wait to get to, today would always be a place of disappointment, instead of a gift from that same place of the unknown, unexpected, and yet-unlived.

4)     How to do everything, know everything, or always have the right answer.

If these were true, the gift of learning would not exist.  The quest for discovery would be entirely unknown, as would be the thrill of the find.  There would be no longing to explore, no ecstasy in revelation, and no sense of drive to help us to climb out of disappointment.  No need to try again.

There would be no passion, no purpose, and no emotion.  Yuck.

In the research-world, those things we don’t FOR-SURE-know are called “knowledge problems.”  I like to call them “knowledge invitations.”

I am inspired and empowered when I stand on the shore of the spiritual sea—and accept these invitations to explore, learn, and discover—all that I don’t know for sure.

 

References: 1) Kelcourse, F. (2004). Human Development and Faith: Life-cycles stages of body, mind, and soul.  Chalice Press, St Louis, Missouri.  2)  Hebrews 11:1.  3) 1 Cor. 2:9

9 Responses to 4 Things I’m Glad I Don’t Know for Sure

  1. February 21, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    This is a great reminder that the limitations we strain against are often our best opportunities. Thanks for these enlightening thoughts!

    • February 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm

      Thanks, Andy. I appreciate this feedback. The quest for understanding is enticing.

  2. February 22, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Lovely piece…and isn’t the humility of not having to “know” the best way to live in the present moment?

    • February 22, 2012 at 8:21 am

      Quite. Am thinking of the serenity prayer, and the phrase, grant us “the wisdom to know the difference.” I shall pray this in terms of what I need to know, and what I don’t. Thanks for the comment. See you in class!

  3. Joyce
    February 24, 2012 at 10:53 am

    I’m just glad I know who holds th future.

  4. Carla B. Heinecke, M.Ed.
    February 28, 2012 at 11:34 am

    What your writing does for me personally is that it captures my attention but also stimulates me to answer the same questions with my own set of “lists” ! Even your list of what you are most thankful for during a month..propels me to start journaling the same way! I nicknamed my son, John Caleb, “Mr. Inspiration”. I hope you will like what I’ve decided today to nickname you: “Mr. Motivation”! Thanks!

    • February 28, 2012 at 11:37 am

      iTia! iMil gracias! I like that. You’ll just have to switch it to Dr. Motivation shortly. = ) Hugz, –N

      • Carla B. Heinecke, M.Ed.
        March 2, 2012 at 9:59 pm

        I will start calling you Doc N. soooon! When do you graduate at U of San D.?

        Love you and your comments!
        See my new “title” for my next job search! Do you like it?

        Welcome back to the arms of your kids! Keep us up on what they say and stuff!

        Carla B. Heinecke, M.Ed.
        Language Access Specialist

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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