The Need To Know

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Have you ever been unemployed and then spent months sending countless resumes out into the ozone?

Have you ever gone to the doctor for a test on a strange bump, lump, or mole?

Have you ever anxiously paced the floor at night, 45 minutes after your teenager’s curfew, wondering where the _____ they are?

If so, then you know a thing or two about waiting. You know about not knowing.

So often, in anxiety-producing situations like these, the not knowing is the worst part of the ordeal; Not knowing if the news is good or bad… Not knowing if there is a solution… Not knowing what the path forward should be… Not knowing how the rest of your life might be changed… or not changed.

And so it is a perfectly natural human response to situations of uncertainty to crave certainty… to be able to KNOW something for sure. Because when we KNOW, we can act. And when we can act, we don’t feel quite as victimized by the random circumstances of our lives. It is a simple formula:



Peace of mind and confidence are rare and wonderful commodities… highly sought after in the kind of topsy-turvy world we live in today. But I wonder if it is possible that in our rush to certainty we (I) might be guilty of overlooking the value of the process of getting there.

Let me broaden the question a little and ask this: is it possible that in our results-oriented, instant gratification culture we might tend to value the END much more than the means of getting to that end?

It is not only possible, but I believe this is an absolutely dead-on description of how we operate in this country today. Witness the vast number of people who state that their goal in life is to “be rich” or to “be famous” without any apparent consideration of the process of getting there. Witness the explosion of credit card debt in the U.S. – the sure-fire plastic path to acquiring a coveted thing today without worrying about how to pay for it until later. Witness the proliferation of casinos, lotteries, and other “get rich quick” schemes. Witness diet pills, stomach reduction surgeries, and “magic belts” that promise to rid us of extra weight without the muss and fuss of careful eating and regular exercise.

Witness, sadly, the precipitous rise of addiction rates in this country… as people seek to feel good RIGHT NOW.

Time and time again, it seems that when we undervalue the process, we lose track of something vital and important.

The same is true when we short-cut the process of getting to CERTAINTY. We want the answer, but we don’t really want to do the work of discovering the answer. That is because the process of discovering the answer often means beginning by putting ourselves in a vulnerable place. It means starting by admitting that you DON’T KNOW the answer. It means committing yourself to looking under every possible rock where an answer might possibly be found. It means considering first one option, and then another option, and then again possibly a THIRD or FOURTH option. It means patiently putting pieces together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

And – perhaps most frightening of all – it means starting the journey with the stark awareness that you might well finish in a different place than you thought you would.

That whole process I have just described has a name. It is called LEARNING. And sometimes learning can be intimidating… mainly because learning has the potential to pick you up from one place and plop you down in a completely new place.

There are numerous examples in my life of things I have had to unlearn in order to relearn. One of those examples is in my attitude toward homosexuality. There was a time in my life when I KNEW with absolute certainty that homosexuals were demented, mentally unstable, and probably dangerous people. After all, I reasoned, who in their right mind could possibly prefer to have sexual relations with someone of the same gender?

But then I met some gay folks. And then I discovered I had some family members who were gay. And then I met some other gay people and talked to them and worked with them. And then I read current literature about homosexuality. And, being a person of faith, I prayed about my attitude. And then finally I ended up in a completely different place than where I started out.

It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen easily. The important thing is: it happened. But the first step to helping it happen was a willingness to grab myself by the lapels, look into the mirror and say, “There is every chance that you are dead wrong about this whole thing, bub.”

As we age, we learn. Sometimes we seek the knowledge and sometimes the knowledge seeks us. But as we age we also often make the mistake of thinking that once we have learned something and relegated it to the file drawer marked, “Certainty,” we will never need to revisit it again.

“After all,” we reason, “I did a lot of work on this question before arriving at this conclusion. I am now finished with it and ready to move on and tackle something else.” Sometimes re-examining our certainties can seem to be an activity akin to a furniture maker knocking on your door asking if he or she could come in and do “just a little more work” on that coffee table in the living room.

Given the time we occupy right now in this country – a time of extremism expressing itself in many forms, a time of violence, a time of unrest and insecurity about the future – it is my hope and prayer that each of us might voluntarily become more vulnerable and actively engage the task of re-examining our certainties. Pull them down off that dusty shelf… turn them over this way and that… peer closely and intently into the beating heart of the matter. Honestly and humbly ask God what you might have missed and where your certainty is incomplete.

The writer of Proverbs said it eloquently with these words: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NRSV).

In every conflict in the world that has ever resulted in tragedy and sorrow, both sides begin with a high degree of certainty about the rightness of their cause combined with a fierce will to defend that rightness.

Why don’t we pledge ourselves today to a little less certainty and to a little more humility and willingness to learn? We might be amazed at where that approach takes us.

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