The Weight of Knowledge

I was cleaning out my emails today, a never ending task it seems like, when I stumbled across an email from my mom. She had sent it a few weeks ago, but I have no memory of actually reading what it said (sorry Mom!)! I must have clicked on it with the intention to read it, most likely from my phone, and got distracted by something and never went back. I’m so thankful that I found it today.

My mom was telling me about a book she is reading called The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Bloom. It is about a Dutch family who bravely hid Jews and others during World War II. Here is what my mom shared with me:

Corrie and her dad were alone on a train and she asked him what ‘sexsin’ was.  First of all I never heard that word but clearly it was not something a very young girl should know about.

He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing.  At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads and set it on the floor.  “Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.  I stood up and tugged at it.  It was crammed with watches and spare parts he had purchased this morning.  “It’s too heavy,” I said.  “Yes,” he said.  And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load.  It is the same way, Corrie, with knowledge.  Some knowledge is too heavy for children.  When you are older and stronger you can bear it.  For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”

A couple of things. First – WOW, what an awesome Dad! How many of us, when presented with a question like that, get some kind of deer-in-the-headlights, defensive, uh, oh dear Lord what am I going to say to that, kind of face? It’s like we have some kind of fight or flight response when our children ask us questions about the human body, why people mistreat one another or to explain words and concepts that are beyond their comprehension or appropriateness.

Second, I love how physical this response is. Corrie’s dad didn’t explain to her something that was too old for her. Nor did he yell at her for asking about something she shouldn’t know anything about. He didn’t tell her it was a grown-up thing and she couldn’t know. He wasn’t awkward, anxious or upset. Instead he was calm and deliberate. He gave her something physical that she could relate to, the large traveling case. It’s contents were important for the family (her father was a watchmaker and repairer) and would one day be important for Corrie. But not yet. She was still young, too young to shoulder the burden. Her dad gently relates the heaviness of the case to the weight and responsibility of knowledge.

Third, does this sound like any other father’s you might know? God, our heavenly Father, has been telling us from the beginning of time to take care, because knowledge comes responsibility and consequences (literally, look at Adam and Eve). Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t learn anything because with knowledge comes responsibility and consequences.

As babies we learn how to talk. The consequence is that now we can express ourselves, our needs, desires, thoughts and emotions. That’s great! As we mature in our speech, we learn that we are responsible for our words. We learn that there are things we should say like please and thank you. We learn that there are things we should not say. Our knowledge of speech gives us great freedom, but we must accept both the consequences and responsibility for that freedom. The same comes with learning to walk, learning to read, learning to ride a bike, learning how to cook and job skills. This knowledge is wonderful, when learned at the right time and at the appropriate speed.

And so with God. Think about some of the great saints – St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Bl (soon to be Saint) Mother Teresa, and many others. Something incredible about each of their journeys of faith is that they all went through a period of darkness, a dark night of the soul. They were permitted to participate in the darkness and emptiness of the Cross, the intense feelings of abandonment and aridity that Jesus experienced for our salvation. Both Mother Teresa and St. Faustina share experiencing the unquenchable thirst of Christ for the love of souls. Why is it these saints experienced this kind of backwards union with Jesus when the rest of us don’t?

I believe it is for the simple reason that God knew it was a weight they could carry. God does not shoulder all of us with the same spiritual experiences indiscriminately. The joys and burdens we experience are equally unique gifts from our Father who works all things for our good (cf. Romans 8:28).

The Weight of Knowledge from Daily Graces at
Library by Stewart Butterfield via Flickr (2006). CC. Modified by Kate Taliaferro 2016.

Are there things in your life that you do not understand? Are things not timing out the way you want? Are you struggling to understand a piece of theology or mystery that seems to elude you? When this happens to me, I usually inevitably start to think in a negative way that God is keeping something from me or that I’m not smart enough/strong enough to handle it.  And maybe that’s exactly right. Maybe I’m not ready to handle something or God knows that a deeper understanding of a mystery will not be good for my faith at this time. It’s hard to not only admit but embrace our weakness. But rather than getting defensive and letting my feathers be ruffled that God is keeping something from me, I’m going to turn the attitude around. God, as a loving parent, is sheltering me from knowledge that I am not ready to handle. He will not keep it from me forever and I trust His timing.

After all, Jesus didn’t start his ministry with his death. That would have been too much, too soon, to incomprehensible. He made sure the disciples had a good foundation, he formed them and helped them grow, so that when the incomprehensible happened, they survived (it wasn’t pretty or perfect, but with help from the Holy Spirit, they were able to change the world).


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