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 kktaliaferro.wordpress.com
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).

 

Just Around the Riverbend

I hope you all, whoever you all are =) , haven’t felt too neglected the past week or so. I had some family visiting and decided to take a little break to spend good quality time that I don’t often get with them. But, they are home now and we are re-finding our routines. It was a lovely visit and we all were sorry it was over. I know that my family will miss us as much as we will miss them, though there are probably a few things they are happy to be leaving behind them as they board their plane to head home.

One thing that they are likely happy to leave behind are all the movie soundtracks we listen to. All, day, long. Really, we have music playing pretty consistently during the day, periodically breaking out into song and dance to go with it. John has a sensitive side and is very drawn to visuals, so he loves movies and TV. However, he becomes overly committed emotionally to pretty much every character he encounters, good or bad. One way we are helping ease him into stories and plots is through the music. We can play a soundtrack and talk about who the characters are, what is happening, who is a “good guy” and who is a “bad guy.” We are also doing some music appreciation by letting the soundtracks play when it is only instrumental music so John and Rosie can try to figure out if it’s a happy song, a sad song, an angry song, etc.

Our current obsession just switched from Tarzan to Pocahontas, in case disney-pocahontasyou didn’t catch the reference in the title. I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head! Due to the fact that it’s on repeat, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. Just before the song officially starts, Pocahontas’ father, Powhatan, has a few lines of song/dialogue. They are:

As the river cuts his path
Though the river’s proud and strong
He will choose the smoothest course
That’s why rivers live so long

They’re steady …
As the steady beating drum

Then the song starts:

What I love most about rivers is:
You can’t step in the same river twice
The water’s always changing, always flowing
But people, I guess, can’t live like that
We all must pay a price
To be safe, we lose our chance of ever knowing
What’s around the riverbend
Waiting just around the riverbend

(lyrics from http://www.fpx.de/fp/Disney/Lyrics/Pocahontas.html)

And so on. I was thinking about their two different perspectives on rivers. Chief Powhatan sees them as steady, constant and unchanging. Yet his daughter has a completely different take on it. I found myself thinking about how these two views of the river can be applied to life. In some ways, our lives are steady and constant. We have routine and ritual. We wake up, we live our day, we go to sleep, we do it all over again. But our lives are always constantly changing and evolving. I am seeing it every day as Clare grows. Just 10 days ago she was starting to cruise around on furniture, holding on with two hands and taking tentative steps. Today, literally 10 minutes ago as I type this, she was walking along a wall, got to the end, looked at me across the room, let go and took about 5 solo steps before falling. Incredible! What a change.

Sometimes change is hard. In life, there are always unknowns and uncertainty. We all have our own riverbends. We can’t quite see around them. As we get closer, we might get a bit of a glimpse, but we won’t see the full picture until we round that corner. Maybe there will be a calm stream. Perhaps a swift current or even some rapids. It’s difficult to anticipate what is unknown.

It is easy to be paralyzed by this unknowing. There is a lot of risk turning that corner. It may feel like the unknown is too big to risk the safety of our current spot on the river. This has been a challenge for me for a long time. I like to plan and as I’ve shared before, I am an excellent worrier. But God has been working on me, giving me lots of opportunities in this Air Force life to let go of the worry and the long-term plan in favor of His plan, both for me and for my family.

As I’ve let go, I think I’m starting to understand something about the riverbends in life. If I believe that God’s love and grace has been with me up until now, then I should logically believe that His love and grace is waiting for me around that riverbend. If His love and grace are waiting for me, then what’s around the riverbend isn’t necessarily unknown. Yes, I don’t know the exact situations or circumstances that I will be facing, but I do know where God will be, and isn’t that the most important thing? There is a great prayer that expresses this. It is part of a much longer prayer by St. Patrick.

St_Patrick1

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

(For full prayer, click here)

I just love the concrete imagery. Now, as I wonder about what will happen next for our family, especially if and when we will be moving to a new duty station, I can slow myself down and think of this prayer. I can even add to it.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ even beyond my sight.

So much whining, where’s the wine?

John will be 4 years old in a few days. Where did the time go? Cliche, but seriously, where did it go? If someone can find it for me, I’d really like to have it back. Though, if it’s possible, I’d like to be selective about what parts I would like back. For example, I would absolutely love to have back John’s first time he found his toes. He could suck on his toes like they were thumbs, it was hysterical. I would also love to experience again John’s delight when he finally let go of the wall and started to walk across the room. His amazement at his accomplishment was beautiful and so much fun (and a huge new challenge for us) to have a real walker.

With all those good memories are of course some that aren’t so great. Presently, I would be happy to let go of the whining. Oh my goodness, the whining!! It feels like every time I have to tell John “no” or “stop” or “John, you may not play baseball in the house, or give Clare a hug so strong she falls over, or push Rosie out of the way (after politely opening the refrigerator for her) so that you can get your milk first and proceed to spill it all over the refrigerator, the floor, and your sister” he has a complete melt down. Or, my personal favorite, flat out tells me no. Me – his mother! Oh no, that’s not how this house works. It’s all I can do some days to make it to bedtime when I can sit down with a glass of wine.

How I feel at the end the day sometimes, especially when Ben is gone
How I feel at the end the day sometimes, especially when Ben is gone

I’m not sure how I’m going to effectively, compassionately and patiently deal with John. But his whiney attitude has gotten me thinking. Do I whine? Or, to be a bit more sophisticated do I complain (but let’s all be honest, complaining is just whining with somewhat more articulate words)? As I thought about it more, I was shocked to realize that one of the first things that came to mind was a phrase that you may be familiar with: “I don’t mean to complain but…” What I’m really saying is “I’m about to complain about something, but I’m going to throw this little disclaimer in front of it to make it all aright and now you have to listen to me.” And, I hate to admit it, I say this more often than I would like.

God never said “Thou shall not complain.” Jesus never told his disciples “Guys, stop complaining about how many people are following us. I’ll deal with dinner.” God lets us complain.

What is complaining? Why do we do it? We complain when something/someone irritates us or when we are lacking something. When we feel something is out of order, most of us at least, will probably complain about it, even just to ourselves. We complain when we are worried, when we feel things are not going the way we want it, or when something is beyond our control.

To be fair, there are very legitimate times in life when a situation may be unfair, when something happens that we do not like or are hurt by, or when we are feeling under-appreciated.

Take this story from the Gospel of Mark (Mk 4:35-41) from a few Sundays ago. Jesus tells his disciples they should cross to the other side of the lake. That night, there was a storm. Jesus, apparently, is a heavy sleeper and doesn’t notice. The disciples are worried and scared so they go to wake Jesus with this fabulous line: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing.” Do you not care is about as close to complaining as you can get in my book. Our pastor had an interesting take on this scripture. He asked us to think about the level of trust the disciples demonstrated in this situation versus how much they should have had in Jesus. Didn’t they trust he would take care of them? Why were they so concerned? They were, after all, pretty much all fishermen. And yet they were worried enough to wake Jesus and complain that he did not care about them.

Jesus’ response is excellent: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Do you not yet have faith? Our pastor had another interesting insight to offer, one I hadn’t thought about before. Remember how I said maybe Jesus was a heavy sleeper? What if Jesus was only pretending to be asleep, waiting to see how long before the disciples faith weakened – a test, if you will. This was my big take-away.

When I complain about something, I am usually still trying to control and fully understand the situation. I am acting like the disciples – questioning whether or not God cares.

God does care. Time and again, scripture and experience have confirmed for me that God doesn’t simply care, He is wholly committed to my happiness. So, instead of whining about when things aren’t going my way, I need to let go of the problem. The harder I hold onto it, the longer I keep it to myself, the louder the whining. So, when I find myself whining, it means it’s time to take a minute, breathe deeply, sometimes have a glass of wine, and loosen my grip.

If you feel like your boat is rocking in waves beyond your control, maybe it’s time to wake up Jesus, maybe it’s time for that glass of wine.