fear / learning

the fear of not knowing

Yesterday I was on my way to pick up kids and stopped to fill the tank up with gas. I was driving by where the homeless guys ask for money and here’s what went down inside:

Oh, yeah! Homeless people. I forgot about that. Haven’t made much progress there. I guess avoiding this intersection is one way to deal with it. Oh, look there isn’t anybody even there right now. How nice. I sure hope that me talking to that one guy doesn’t mean I have to talk to all of them all the time now. Especially cause I’m kind of bad at knowing the difference between my guilt and God’s voice.

Oh, look! There’s a different guy. In a different place. Great. Should not have gone this way. Now I have to decide if I’m supposed to go talk to him or not. I mean, talking to them all is just not reasonable. I don’t have a gift card and I don’t give cash and I can’t just show up empty-handed and just ask questions. 

But I do have time, a couple minutes, anyway. But what can I possible do to help him? I’ll just give him cash. Three dollars is a small price to pay for finding out what I have to learn from him. But I don’t know what I’m going to ask. I don’t know what I’m going to say. I don’t know how to help him. I don’t know what I’m doing.

I don’t have answers.

That’s when I realized what I was afraid of. Last time, talking to the homeless guy meant giving up my agenda for my day, letting go of the control I thought I had on my day and my life. I was afraid to let go of control. This time talking to the homeless guy meant coming face to face with the fact that I don’t have the answers.

It’s kind of the same thing, just wrapped up a little bit differently.

Not knowing is terrifying. Which is really funny, in the sadistic sense of the word, because all people, for all of time, have always known infinitely less than what there is to know. It’s like we know .008% of things and we know we don’t know another .002% and the remaining 99.99% of things we just don’t know we don’t know. The horror is encountering that 99.99%.

Me, I like to put up protective measures with this. I really focus long and hard on that .008%. And the .002%, that’s why I love books so much, and asking questions and every other form of knowledge acquisition because I have this idea that I can turn that .008% into a .009% if I work at it. Except it doesn’t work that way.

I also protect myself by not doing unsafe things where I could encounter the 99.99%. Talking to homeless guys, for example, forces you to acknowledge that you know pretty much nothing and have nothing really to offer in terms of actual value.

So I talk to this guy anyway — Steve is his name, and he is a disabled vet who is very definitely disabled. I would not ever hire him unless I needed a guy that talked funny, make no sense and was missing teeth. He does not need job training or life skills, he just needs a place to sleep and some food.

I asked some questions and did not understand 97% of what he said. I asked him what I could pray for for him and he didn’t seem to know how to answer that. He finally arrived at “all the people”, which means he wins the beauty pageant and tells me he’s been trained — like most impoverished people have — to give the right answer. He also might be so far cut off from his dreams that he can’t even see that they’re there.

I spoke weird things to him about how he is important to God and how God hears him. That’s just what came out of my mouth and it makes no sense, it made no sense to him either, and so me and him, we confused the heck out of each other. Twinsies!

I hate, hate, hate not having the answers or a plan to get them. I hate not knowing what to say. I hate not knowing what I’m doing. And yet Jesus calls me to be in that spot more times than I would pick if I were him. Obviously his goal is not my personal comfort, either that or he is terrible with strategy and outcomes.

Today I read about the feeding of the 5000, which I have read and have gleaned from a million times, so I was not thrilled that it showed up in my daily reading. Again.

But this time I noticed how me and the disciples, we had a lot in common. Jesus asked them to do something and they didn’t know how to do it. They didn’t have anything to do it with. They didn’t have answers. They didn’t have a plan for how to fix the problem.

Turns out Jesus is a big meanie to more people than just me!

They explain the situation: “Jesus, uh…what are you even talking about? We can’t do this, actually.” And Jesus, instead of agreeing with them (because it was technically true) asks them what they have. What they don’t have is immensely obvious. What they do have took some scrounging, but they come up with a meager sack lunch, one with gross food that no one in lunch room would have ever traded for a bag of Cheetos.

What we have — our pretty much nothingness, our .008% — is enough. Nothing + Jesus = Everything, always.

Facing what you don’t know and don’t have is scary. Face the scary. Know that your nothing is enough because all Jesus needs is 100% of your heart and the nothingness it brings.

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