Episode 11: The Hardest Part

A couple of days ago I was sitting around catching up with a group of friends, and someone began to get real about fear. She had been experiencing some abnormal health symptoms, had gone for tests, and now had an upcoming doctors appointment looming over her head. She summarized her fears about hearing her results quite simply, “I just wish I knew whether it was good or bad.”

Almost immediately, another friend nodded her head in agreement and said, “That’s the hardest part though – the unknown.”

Everyone in the circle nodded in agreement.

I couldn’t help but think how true that is in every area of our lives. That’s the hardest part: the unknown. That’s the one thing we can never seem to pin down. That’s the reason we’re all on this never ending journey to find and maintain this elusive sense of “peace.” That’s also why if you have a lot of unknown’s in your life, being in social situations can be super hard. It seems like from the moment you leave high school everyone’s favorite question becomes, “What are you up to these days?” or “What are you doing next year?”

Society thrives off of everything we know. We elevate knowing and knowledge. Haven’t you heard that a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough these days? Masters is basically the new minimum requirement for a hopeful future. (If you disagree with me on that point you probably aren’t in your mid 20’s and desperately job hunting). We love knowing what’s coming next! It gives us almost equal parts feelings of comfort and control. I think knowledge has become somewhat of a god. It gives us false hope. Knowledge fuels the illusion that we know what is coming (aka comfort) and combines with the false pretense that we can alter that coming future (control).

Comfort and control begin to seep into every area of our lives. For instance, they work in a lovely little dichotomy together when it comes to relationships. I’m not married, but from what I hear you don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who is inherently selfish. Now, I’m pretty sure most of tend to lean that way (or at least our gut instincts do). Marriage is really an act of selflessness; it is laying down your instinct for self-preservation in favor of another persons. And when kids come along, it looks like choosing to put you last. (This is a bit of a tangent, but I find it interesting that the younger the generation gets, the more “narcissistic” or “self-obsessed” they are labeled. At the same time, we have more and more people choosing to avoid marriage or having babies altogether. It’s like selfishness has become so mainstream that we can no longer separate our private lives from it).

*That was not meant to shame anyone who chooses not to get married or doesn’t want kids. Simply an observation based on [true] statistics overheard by me in some good old ‘sociology of family’ lectures.

To me, selfishness in a relationship is simply demanding comfort out of another person. And as you demand that they meet your need for comfort, you inevitably attempt to control them. (Obviously so that they meet it in a way you like). Sidebar: I wrote an entire post about comfort and our inextricable need for it, give it a read if you haven’t already!

Comfort also operates in other areas of our lives. Because we put comfort up on the high pedestal of the American Dream, it becomes our pinnacle of success. (I’m not saying we all consciously think this way everyday, I’m saying it is very deeply ingrained in each of us. Who doesn’t want to retire and go chill on a private island in the Caribbean for the rest of your days??) Achieving comfort means we can finally “relax.” Maybe you’ve sorted out your finances (rent…check, savings…check, future retirement nest-egg…check!) Or maybe you’re finally dating someone (no more fear about dying alone, right?!) Or you just landed the job of your dreams!

Control comes in to play because if I have everything sorted out for my foreseeable future, then I am untouchable. I even have insurance in case the unthinkable happens! I am entirely in control of my life. Right?

Wrong.

I don’t think anyone will fight me when I say it doesn’t really pan out that way. Why exactly is that? Because fear always lingers in the unknown. As soon as we check off a couple of unknowns, 10 more swoop in to replace them. Those new unknowns (or fears) tend to double in magnitude and also begin to affect more people than just ourselves.

Lets go back to my comfort example. I got my dream job. Sweet!  I’ll probably go out and celebrate that night with friends. But now the reality hits as we cheers to my future. I have to work this job now. What if I don’t do it well enough? What if they fire me? What if they never promote me? What if my boss sucks? What if I don’t make enough to support my growing family? What if I have to compromise on things I don’t want to? How long will I stay here? How long is too long? Was this the best option for me?!

Boom. I haven’t even set foot in my new workplace and already my brain creates 15 different scenarios- each one worse then the last. So what’s your point here Amy? We’re all doomed to live fear and anxiety-ridden lives forever?? I don’t think so. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it,

Embracing the unknown, in every area of life, is actually a healthy part of life.

I think we were originally designed to live in freedom. What I mean by that is living without constraints. Imagine, for a moment, what your life could look like without physical, mental, and emotional hindrances. Obviously, we don’t have the ability to live completely perfect mental, emotional and physical lives. I’m not suggesting that. I am suggesting that knowledge, or the elevation of knowledge, is the very root of a lot of those constraints.

The initial craving for knowledge (one experienced by Adam and Eve) did not bring peace. Instead it removed that permanent place of peace (Eden) from their grasp. If you aren’t tracking with me, I’ll go back to the beginning. (Whether or not you believe the bible is true isn’t my point here. If you get hung up on that then take this as one big, beautiful metaphor). In Genesis Adam and Eve are living in perfect peace in the garden of Eden. There was one rule in this entire garden of immaculate beauty: do not eat the fruit from the tree in the center of the garden. Of course then comes the temptation. (Gen 2:8-15). We get the idea that the fruit on that tree looked good to eat. Also that the fruit would grant wisdom, and as most of us would agree, being wise is good. So they ate the fruit. You probably know the story.

In the same way we are tempted on a regular basis to make knowledge our god and crave it above all else (even at the expense of our joy, peace, and healthy relationships). We think that the more we know the better off we will be. The more god-like we can become, the greater levels of comfort and control we can maintain. But that simply isn’t true.

So what actually creates that lasting peace we crave? Meditation and yoga on the weekends isn’t cutting it. Herbal tea before bed doesn’t do the trick. A couple vacations per year don’t create enough peace to make up for the grand canyon-sized void in our lives.

Simply put, if we make knowledge the ultimate end point we will never know peace.

Lets go back to the garden for a second. There were two trees of vast importance there. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. (Gen 2:8-9). Okay, honestly which of those trees just sounds infinitely more appealing?? I’m going to borrow and paraphrase a bit from James Jordan in The Ancient Road Rediscovered to paint a picture of the first option. Or rather, the tree that most of us live from unintentionally on a daily basis. 

“Living out of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is the human mind constantly evaluating everything on the basis of right and wrong… It is the basis for performance-orientation and performance anxiety. Living out of that, if I’m not perfect I’m not ok. Our worth is directly tied to our performance. We judge ourselves harshly, and by the same measuring stick we judge others harshly.”

It keeps going though. The tree that just keeps giving.

“…Living out of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is to be bound in legalism. It is the basis of fear, the basis of all striving… We fear that we are inadequate. We fear that we haven’t done well enough, that we are somehow not up to standard.”

It sounds like a horribly familiar way to live. It sounds like the 15 different fear-based scenarios that my hypothetical dream-job recipient created. Let’s compare that to the tree of life. As James says,

“This is where life is. Life is no longer about decisions between good and evil or right and wrong. It is about living from this enormity of love.”

The tree of life is living from the heart. It is living connected to and in the love of God. It’s living free. The short and sweet version is that I think we are all designed to live in love. Living in love is living in the way you and I were ultimately designed to. It will feel natural and free, because it’s being in harmony with the very nature of love itself!

So, no, I’m not bashing you getting your Masters. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be educated, or place a certain amount of value in saving up for our futures. I’m certainly not saying that we should live without knowledge altogether.

I am saying that love should supersede knowledge. Love should be our starting point, our end goal, and everything in between. Love should be our driving motivation, our ultimate dream, and our purest form of comfort. Whenever knowledge takes the place of love it creates space for anxiety. But if love is our guidepost, then the unknown places in our lives actually become exciting! If love is the base layer for everything we do, then there is room for peace to flow in.

Love is our origin, so it should be our everything. Simply put, every time we attempt to live outside of love, things get messy. I think Friedrich Nietzsche said it best when he said,

“We love life, not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving.”