My son in law, Mark told me recently about a conversation that he had with a buddy who is not a follower of Christ. They were discussing spiritual ideas and his friend posed a hard question. The question isn’t important, but his answer was very important. He answered his friend with these words, “I don’t know.” Mark’s friend was surprised and impressed. He told Mark that he was one of the few (maybe the only) Christians who had ever admitted to him that they didn’t have an answer to a hard question. He felt like Mark was honest and humble. My guess is that he gained quite a few trust points with his friend and rightly so.While I applaud Mark, I ask myself why this is a noteworthy story. Isn’t honesty one of the virtues that Christians hold dear? Rather than just fix it though, I believe we need to examine the roots of this behavior. We could try to merely change our behavior, but I think we would do well to remember what Stephen Covey had to say about our ability to change. He says that if we want to make small changes, we should address our behaviors. If we want to make huge, quantum changes, we should address our paradigms. Paradigms are the way we see the world, the maps we hold in our minds that tell us why people do what they do. Sometimes these maps are just plain wrong. (Read Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to learn more).
We hold beliefs in our core being that tell us what to expect. Then we operate out of those beliefs and when things don’t go the way we expect, we feel uncomfortable feelings. If I believe that my cup with a lid holds steaming hot Starbucks coffee and I take a sip, anything other than that a hot coffee taste is going to make me behave in potentially ugly ways… Most mornings at work, I get a cup of Starbucks bold coffee. I like it black without any sweeteners. After I finish the my coffee, I refill the cup with water and drink that over and over during the day. Not too long ago, I got distracted for a while before I finished my coffee. When I returned to my desk, I picked up the cup, for a sip. Because the cup now felt cool, my mind (my belief) said, “This is water.” But it was not. It was cold coffee. Yuck! A classic example of my beliefs not lining up with reality.
What if I find out that my beliefs about the world (that are more important than what is in my coffee cup) don’t line up with reality? Come on, let’s be real. I do not hold all truth. There is still so much I have to learn and unlearn.
When my four daughters were little girls, they all learned the way we did things and what we believed as a family. What were our values and what did we believe about God. One by one, they became teenagers and the questioned everything… and I mean everything. That caused three things in me:
First it caused me to realize that I had never given myself permission to ask some of these hard questions. I chose conformity so I could find acceptance.
Secondly, realizing that I didn’t have the answers they were looking for, I started looking for answers. Why do I believe what I believe? When Danae challenged me on how God decides who goes to heaven, I remember reading through the entire New Testament looking for anything to do with salvation. I used a pink highlighter so I could easily review and digest what I read. The first thing that struck me was that several times, people came to Jesus and asked him how to get eternal life. His answer was different every time. If he was looking for a simple, repeatable 1-2-3 answer, he could have done better… maybe he could have printed a tract with the answer … but I digress.
The third thing their questions did in me was cause me to feel embarrassed that I didn’t have the answers they were looking for. In my mind, a good dad would have the answers. Once I remember Erin asking me a question while we were watching TV and I felt annoyed towards her. When I realized that I felt annoyed, I asked myself why in the world I would feel annoyed with her. That was when the reality hit me that I was living from a paradigm that said I have to have answers to all of the questions. As goofy as it sounds, that was what was going on deep inside of me. Once I recognized that she didn’t expect me to have the answers, I was doing this to myself, I was on my way to freedom. The next time she asked, I felt that feeling of annoyed embarrassment (because the feeling is automatic), but I quickly reminded myself that I didn’t have to know the answer. I looked at her and said, “I don’t know,” and she was just fine with that.
On this side of teenage-hood (I am happy to say that there is life after teenagers), I am still asking questions. One answer seems to lead to ten new questions. It is a process of uncovering new things all the time. Frequently the new learning challenges my old ideas. That can be uncomfortable because old ideas are like a warm blanket in a cold house (that was for you, Melody). Exposing false beliefs feels like pulling back the warm, comfortable blanket. It feels cold. So why do it? Why not enjoy the warmth of the ideas that make me feel good about myself? Because I am lazy and I would rather create a world that makes me feel good about me whether it is true or not. Left to my own devices, I will create a world that works for me. I, me, mine… That is not what I believe Jesus had in mind. When he was here, he pushed against the people in authority who created rules and social orders for the purpose of making sure they (the rulers) were ok. He wants us to have an outward focus. It is truly not about me. It is about me in the sense that God has put unique gifts, talents and strengths in me (that I am only now beginning to recognize), but these gifts, talents and strengths are not for me. I Peter 4:10 says that they are to serve others.
When we shut off questions or pretend to have all the answers, we invite pride and idolatry into our lives. We lose credibility with people who are genuinely looking for truth. And we allow (or even cause) things to come between us and God. My prayer is from Psalm 139:23-24
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.