The Joy of Not Knowing

I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

– Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, Letters to a Young Poet

One of the things I love about Colorado is the blurriness of the seasons, the way it can hail in June and we can have 60 degree days in January. Just this morning, I took a bike ride with my sons wearing short-sleeved shirts and sun hats, and tonight I write this post while watching the first snowflakes of the season ride down from a black sky to form a powdery, white blanket on our balcony. We have a phrase here that says, “If you don’t like the weather in Colorado, just wait ten minutes.” It’s actually quite true.

Well, let me be honest and say that a part of me loves the inconsistencies of the Colorado weather. Another part, the one that takes comfort in the known and predictable aspects of life, sends up occasional flickers of longing for the monochrome weather patterns of my California days. This same part wonders what it would be like to live in a four-season city where each season arrives on time and leaves after three, neatly packaged months. To the part of me that likes to be in control, this sounds appealing.

But for the most part, the wildness and unpredictability of Colorado is exciting. It’s fun not to know. It’s fun to wear shorts and a snow hat in the same day. It keeps life interesting. I notice the desire for control, and then I remind myself that I actually prefer not to know what the weather will be tomorrow, or even in two hours. I watch my kids delighting in the change of weather without giving the blurriness a second thought. Because they live in the moment, they don’t think, “Oh, it’s sunny now, that means it will be sunny all day and the next day,” and then resent when it rains. They play in the sun and they revel in the rain without attempting to capture the weather, define it, label it, and place it into a stagnant box. Through watching them, I learn to do the same.

Coinciding with today’s abrupt weather change, I synchronistically read them a book tonight for the first time called, “God’s Paintbrush.” It’s a beautiful children’s book which describes all the ways that we can feel God’s presence, and each poetic page ends with a question or two. In the author’s note, Sandy E. Sasso writes:

“Sometime after God’s Paintbrush was first published, I received a letter from a grandmother of a five-year-old boy. She wrote to tell me that her grandson thought the book was really “neat.” When she wondered why he liked the book so much, he explained, “Because it asks so many questions.

“As adults we feel we need to have all the answers, to be in control, to find a solution to every problem. But children realize that they can’t control everything and that the world is filled with mystery. They aren’t afraid of questions until we make them afraid.”

Every client I’ve worked with has one or several questions that send them to my virtual doorstep. The number one question that my engaged clients ask is, “Do I love him/her?” It’s a question that plagues them night and day, ties their stomach into knots, and keeps them separate from the experience of actually loving. For my pregnant women and new mothers, the question is, “Will my baby be okay?” For my clients struggling with generalized anxiety, the question is often, “Am I good enough?”

Do these questions have answers? Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Usually the answer is a simple “yes”: Yes, you love him; yes, you’re baby will be okay; yes, you are enough (you’re more than enough). But reassuring my clients with a simple yes doesn’t usually do the trick because the anxious or fear-based mind with un-do the yes with a variety of rational reasons why it’s the wrong answer (because they’re the exception or the worst case).

Eventually, the healing path leads to an acceptance in the uncertainty of life and even a joy in not knowing. It leads to throwing the questions up to God (or whatever you like to call the ineffable goodness of something higher) and saying, “Here you go. I don’t have the answers and I’m tired of trying to find one. It’s in your hands now.” It’s realizing that our need to find an answer is usually rooted in an illusory belief that we can control the future, that if only we find the “right” answer (there’s no such thing), we can avoid making a mistake, which really means avoiding getting hurt.

At the core of every life transition, at the very center of life itself, is our continual unraveling of our need to control. And sitting in the middle of the tightness and hardness that accompanies the need to control, wrapped like a soft gift in a swath of warm blankets, is the willingness to respond to the questions with a simple answer: I don’t know. Maybe I love him and maybe I don’t. But choose to be here anyway. Maybe my baby will be okay and maybe she won’t. But I still open my heart and continue to love. Maybe I’m enough and maybe I’m not. But I move continue to commit to peeling away the layers of my self-doubt and inner critic and connect to the soft place that says, “It’s all okay. I’m okay exactly as I am.”

As I write this I see my clients’ faces dance across my mind, and I send out a prayer to each and every one of you: Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Ask yourself what it means to live the questions. Ponder what it would look like to move forward even with uncertainty. Say yes to the play of sun and to the magic of snow, even when they arrive in a single day. Say yes to not knowing and yes to the mystery. And in the end, always, say yes to love.

***

Note: I wrote this two days ago and was just about to publish when the power went out. We’ve been without power for two days… and that will be the subject of another post!

 

9 comments to The Joy of Not Knowing

  • Marisa

    I just swung by the blog because I felt like it had been a while since I’d read a new post and have been itching for one. How lucky am I to have found the newest installation, which, as always, is exactly on point for where I am in my life right now. It is bizarre to me that you write to the very heart of the matter that I find myself in. The uncertainties of life have been wearing on me lately-perhaps not incoincidentally as I approach my 30th birthday. Life’s questions seem big and scary and overwhelming, and it’s hard for me not to have the answers and not to know exactly how I feel. This blog is a place I come back to because of these uncertainties. There is a tremendous amount of peace that radiates off my laptop when I am here and I send you thanks each time I visit. I am still unsure and afraid and worried, but your and Rilke’s words help ease the discomfort, and I am grateful.

  • Yes, the uncertainties will certainly flare up around birthdays, especially the big ones. And as you’re making room for the questions, also make room for the fear, the worry, and, as always, the grief. It’s often when you allow the grief to rush through you – the grief of letting go of your 20s, the grief of old losses, the grief of not knowing, the grief of being human – that the uncertainty becomes more palatable.

  • Ashley

    Thank you for posting this! This Saturday, with leaves still on the trees, snow began to fall in NY. As last winter was so difficult for me, I naturally fear another round of winter… and yet, somehow, I feel like God was saying with this anomaly of in-between seasons, it is all going to be okay. And so, I stayed inside. I bundled up next to my husband. I rested. I reflected. I also enjoyed the presence of the moment. Seasons change, weather can be unpredictable… but God is always here for me, no matter my present circumstance, to remind that everything is okay just as it is.

  • Beautiful, Ashley. Yes, God is the through-line, the only consistency in a life that’s inherently full of contradiction and inconsistencies.

  • Melanie

    I just started the conscious wedding e-courses. Through my entire engagement and now right after my engagement I have been an anxious wreck trying to figure out where all this anxiety is coming from. I know I want to be with this man for the rest of my life, but I have days where I get so out of control nervous and anxious because not knowing and having that control of what will happen in the future scares me. Wondering did I make the right decision, will I lose my husband someday to something horrible like death or divorce. I have confiding in my husband everyday about what I have been feeling and just recently the question came up between us about that titled honeymoon stage going away, and I honestly let my psyche believe that because I don’t feel like that all the time that I questioned did I make the right decision. My mind has been in constant struggle with what I know my heart wants and what my head is telling me. Conscious wedding e-courses has been my first peace of mind to telling me that I am not crazy! It is showing me how to deal with the Colorado days and give light to all the misconceptions I had about love and marriage and also how this is a transition in life that may not be easy, but I will say yes to love. God blessed me last night when I found this!

    • I’m so glad you found your way here! As you work through the lessons of the e-course, you will learn how to manage the unknown of the future, accept the uncertainty of the decision to marry, and break down the fantasies and unrealistic expectations about love and marriage. You’re definitely not crazy!

  • Liesl

    Thank you so much for this post! I am 36 weeks pregnant and have been on a roller coaster due to the questions – “Is my baby going to be okay?” and “Am I going to be okay?” And of course the answer is to keep my heart open and continue to love. We are both exactly where we need to be. We are both being taken care of. We ARE okay! Thank you for the reminder.

  • Bettina

    wonderful!!! thank you!

  • KD

    Sheryl,
    Excellent post. As someone who is riddled with anxiety, feeling ‘out of control’ and not having the answers seem like the worst things in the world. Thanks for reminding me that it’s OK, and things will make sense in their own time.