Not Knowing

by Kristen Hartman

May 15, 2019

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Knowledge is power.

Those words graced faded inspirational posters on the walls of my childhood classrooms. And, though I never cared much about power, I wanted knowledge.

I like knowing. And I like progressing from not knowing to knowing. Because knowing provides some sense of order, of security, of control. If I know the question, I can find the answer. If I know the batter’s tendency and what pitch is coming, I can position myself defensively to make the play. If I know my boss’ expectations, I can meet them.

Knowledge acquisition is one of my idols.

Or, it used to be. It’s still a temptation—sometimes a strong one—but I want it less. Because I’ve seen its powerlessness.

For months I carried calendars and meticulously tracked all my dad’s test results, complications, ER visits and cancer-related symptoms. Until one day staring at all that data, I realized I could gather every bit of information and never know. I’d never know what was really happening inside his body. I couldn’t know what tomorrow would bring. I couldn’t know how many days it would be until my dad—or any of us—would be welcomed Home by Jesus.

It took confessing the limitations of knowledge to see what a gift not knowing was.  

There’s beauty in patience. There’s wisdom in waiting. There’s peace in being present in answerless suspense.  

Most days I can’t figure out the whys and hows and whens . . . and they just keep coming. But solving the riddles of not knowing won’t provide the security I seek. The words of James 4:13-15 whisper in my mind:

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

Living open-handed—looking for new mercies each morning without trying to hoard yesterday’s or strain for tomorrow’s—feels precarious, and my hands reach for something sturdy to steady myself. My fingers grasp for the illusion of control that knowledge promises to provide. But for all my idol’s heft, it has no substance.

The truth is, if those calendars had been filled out in advance—if I could have looked ahead and known what was coming—the knowledge wouldn’t have empowered me. It would have suffocated me and robbed me of the joy of today. I wasn’t ready then for now, just as I’m not ready now for what’s to come in another two years.

Today is all I can handle. My soul can’t carry another day’s worries or reassurances. I’ll take tomorrow’s surprises when they arrive.

Turns out, there’s great mercy in unwrapping the gift of not knowing, one day at a time.

Kristen is a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a writer and a teacher in The Pursuit Bible study. She appreciates sighting an unusual bird, reading meaningful poetry, and drinking well-brewed coffee.

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