I have a postcard on my fridge that a friend sent me from France some years ago. On the back, she wrote only this: “Can you believe how very little we still know, about anything?” I look at it every morning. It’s the perfect thought to begin the day with.
Last week, I pulled out the suitcase where I keep my old journals. I read through a handful of entries and thought, This was half my lifetime ago. And also, What a difference sixteen years makes. Most of what I was afraid of in my early life was theoretical: the places I wouldn’t go, the great feats I wouldn’t accomplish, the man I wouldn’t marry. But now, nearly everyone I know (myself included) is gristled with tangible loss—loss of a parent, loss of a partner, loss of a child. How small our theories become in the face of such reality.
I wonder what would happen if I could crawl back through the years and tell my younger self, “Darling, there are griefs in this world beyond your deepest imaginings. Do not waste your time worrying about what hasn’t even happened.” Likely, hearing this, even from my older self, would’ve made no difference. I am of a stubborn stock that has, historically, had to slog through miles of swamp land before I’ve been capable of ingesting any kind of wisdom. I couldn’t hear it if someone else said it. Not until I’d seen it, felt it for myself.
I have been this way even with God. Throughout the years, I have heaped more unfounded theories and senseless fears onto Him than I can count. I have shoved words into His mouth and feigned He was the one speaking them. I have conjured an image of Him that is so far from who and what He actually is that it boggles my inmost being. I have treated Him as a human, just as fallible and, yes, incapable as I and everyone else.
Consequently, I have wasted so much time, trying in hopeless futility to be a thousand people I am not. Trying, in fact, to be god. I have traced back the threads through losses, both tangible and intangible, all the way to those early years when I scribbled in a spiral notebook, and always, I find I was bracing myself against a world I saw as wanting nothing more than to skin me alive. There are a million reasons I can point to for why and how I lived this way, but the most significant one is this: I did not understand God.
I did not understand that to be created is to be known, down to my lightest wish and my heaviest woe. I did not understand that to be born into this world is to matter, and not in the happy/sunny/vapid way we all try to impart to our masses of faceless followers on Instagram. But to actually, truly, inescapably, and at times, inexplicably matter. Through every loss and sickness and setback—through every victory and healing and joy—we matter. And what’s more, we matter to God.
In Works of Love, Søren Kierkegaard writes, “The world cannot in fact take everything, simply because it cannot give everything—only God can do that.” I have lost much in my life. Some things were taken from me. Others, I lost by my own volition because I didn’t understand I had a choice not to lose them. Never, not once in all my years of intensive education and stressful jobs and scrambling to clutch and grab at all the things the world told me I had to have—all while trying (and epically failing) to live at the pace at which the world told me I had to live—did I stop and ask Jesus if this was the only option.
When I left my job last year, I wrote out this quote from Oswald Chambers and taped it to my desk: “Jesus says—Go steadily on with what I have told you to do and I will guard your life.” These words, I knew, would be my proverbial lantern on the uncertain path ahead. I stumbled over them many times, dropped them, lost them, set out in the middle of the night with a flashlight to find them again. I am only now, after fourteen months of staring at them, beginning to settle into what they mean.
Until now, I did not understand that the way so much of modern life grated against me was not because I was defective, but because I wasn’t living according to how I was made. I did not understand that the things I’m good at, the things I love and yearn to do, were given to me for a reason and serve an eternal purpose. And yes, the intensive education and stressful jobs and scrambling have all fed into learning how to live like I was made to live. God is redemptive like that. But how hard it is to let go of a lifetime’s worth of habits. How hard it is to let God be God. To let Him, in fact, be everything.
Can you believe how very little we still know, about anything? In I Corinthians, Paul, both a wise and learned man, writes, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” I think he has it right. If we are to know anything at all— fallible and incapable though we may be—this is the place to start: with the God who is infallible and intentional and unfailing, with the Savior who understands what it is to grieve and to lose and to come alive again.