After years of life-experiences and advanced education, I know a lot. One of the most valuable things I know is that there are a lot of things I don’t know. At this time in my life, I’m finding more occasions where I lack knowledge.
This truism became apparent during a recent trip Chris and I took to Costa Rica. Over and over again, we found out that much of what we were experiencing was totally beyond our store of knowledge. “I don’t know” was our honest reaction to most questions or perceptions.
We came upon plants that we’d never seen before—trees that form their own buttresses so they can grow taller. We were awed by animals and insects that don’t live in our part of the world—sloths, monkeys, leaf-carrying ants. Because of the skill of a good bus driver, we traveled roads with unknown names and destinations. The weather remained unpredictable, even for our hosts and guides. Our lack of Spanish kept us in the dark about many important matters. For a period of time, we lived in a world of “I don’t know”. And that was just fine.
Gerontologists tell us that a good way to live at this stage in life is to keep learning new things. Good for the brain and good for the self-concept. But I think there may also be something valuable in not-knowing, and admitting it. Beyond necessary humility—who among us is all-knowing?—a state of not-knowingness may be beneficial for our brains and souls.
As you know from these blogs, I consider self-idolatry as a major contributing factor for many of the existential difficulties I face in life. Not-knowing seems to fit here: As I admit my lack of awareness about various aspects of the world, I cannot approach others from a position of unassailable superiority. Because I know some things and you know some things, we’re co-dependent learners and teachers. Equals!
Having little know-how in many aspects of life, I can approach any experience—familiar or not—with eager curiosity. My imagination ranges widely when I don’t know, generating fountains of questions. If I’m honest about it, my lack of experience or expertise can quiet me down, inviting a respectful, listening spirit when in the company of others. With false notions of knowledge cleaned out of my soul, I can be ready to receive the wisdom and knowledge of others with excitement. And when new knowledge comes into my life, my brain can integrate what’s new into what’s already known—a delightful prospect!
I’m a participant in a longitudinal study of age-related cognitive decline. So I’m aware that not-knowing can be frightening—a possible precursor to dementia. I understand the fear of losing what I may have known before, diminished memories and skills signaling that I’ll approach a time in life when I might not know much at all!
This is one place where faith in God comes into play. The God who “makes all things new” (Revelations 21:5) knows how to fill my momentary ignorance with new thoughts, new experiences, new relationships. Devoid of false notions of omniscience, I can seek God’s wisdom—in the world, in Scriptures, in others. Given this gift, I can prune from my intellect what’s not important, prioritizing the remaining knowledge into fresh, satisfying patterns of understanding.
I can say “I don’t know” and be ready for what comes next!
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