I’ve just come downstairs to look for my brain. Apparently I lost it and everything that was in it. It happened to my husband, too. We woke up one day and discovered we no longer knew anything. Math, science, relationships, how to drive, even how to dress ourselves – you name it, we don’t know it. Thankfully, we are the parents of two middle school geniuses who can help us out.
I miss the days when they thought I knew everything and that I truly had eyes in the back of my head. My 7-year-old still believes that, but even he has taken to aping the condescending tone of his brother and sister while patiently instructing me about traffic lights. “Stop, Mom, STOP!” he orders from the back seat. “Now, GO.” How did I ever get this far without them.
Ah, the hubris of youth. I can remember the exhilaration when the world of knowledge opened up to me, when suddenly all was clarity, when I knew everything and my own poor parents were lost in the dark ages. How I determined to enlighten them.
A number of years ago we took the train from Williams to see the Grand Canyon. After a couple of hours of flat nothingness, we caught our first glimpse of the Canyon out the window of the train. It seemed quite close to us and just looked like a gash in the landscape. With that first glance the North Rim had seemed to be just across the way, reachable. But we still had a distance to go. Once we actually got out of the train and stood at the South Rim, we saw more clearly the vastness of the Canyon and our smallness next to it. The North Rim was impossibly far away from us.
This is the paradox of growth and maturity. The further we are on our journey, on our way to wisdom and understanding, the more clearly we perceive how far we have yet to go. The more we know, the more we understand the depth of our ignorance. I wonder if this isn’t a key part of wisdom – knowing what you don’t know. And then, being willing to admit you don’t know it.
Clarity, certainty – dogma – are the privilege of youth. Living in black and white and “knowing everything” is a comfortable place to be. Until, shades of gray start to muddy your world and challenge your clarity. Then it is humbling. The curve balls and pitfalls of life can knock you down.
I would like to spare my children the pain of those humbling lessons and just teach them from my experiences, but I have to let them discover on their own that they do not know everything. And I don’t have the ability to protect them from those life lessons anyway. So while I am tempted to swiftly and soundly humble my children when they roll their eyes at me and tell me that I “don’t understand,” perhaps I would be wiser not to.
I know that they will eventually come up to that rim on their own and see just how far they are yet from their destination. They will look back on their brash youthful assertions and cringe, as I do. I want to be there to take their hand, further along on the journey but far from arriving myself. While certainty may be the privilege of youth, grace is the privilege of maturity. Grace to say, let’s learn together.
Jennifer Zach lives in Ahwatukee Foothills with her husband and three children. They are members of Bridgeway Community Church. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.