The more I know, the less I understand

It’s no secret my life is running into a headwind right now.  I’m still walking, but it is slow going, and I feel like I’m facing big waves and a strong current.  I know enough about the tides of my own emotions to know this will ebb, and probably soon.  But what won’t change, I don’t think, is my ever-firmer conviction that adulthood is about uncertainty.  The adages about this fly fast and furious: the central gist is that as children we think we know everything and as adults we know we know nothing.

Trite, maybe.  Cliched, certainly.

But it is also true.  I wrote a while back about the pieces of myself that I left in the land of newborns, in those weeks and months steeped in exhaustion and milk and a dizzying sense that the world had just shifted on its axis.  “Most of all I left behind my certainty,” I wrote, and I think that’s utterly true.

But it didn’t stop there.  Instead, I seem to shed certainty every year.  Things I thought I knew for sure have been upended and challenged in more ways than I can count.  The universe does many things well, but one of the best is presenting me with opportunities to realize how erroneous my assumptions and certainties are.  So many times I’ve been absolutely – obnoxiously! – sure about something and I’ve come face to face with the unassailable evidence of my own idiocy.

What’s interesting to me is that as the questions and the not-knowing at the heart of my life grows so, too, does my faith.  By faith I mean my sense that there is something sacred and holy out there, simultaneously much bigger than I am and an intimate part of me, throbbing in my veins right alongside my own blood.  I use “faith” to describe a constellation of emotions, some amalgam of trust, belief, religion, and wonder.

What do I make of these seemingly-opposed developments inside my spirit?  Is my deepening faith a necessary survival response to the terrifying ambiguity of the world?  I don’t know.  I can’t believe these two tracks – my sureness unraveling just as my beliefs grow firmer – are unrelated.  All I know is the very real comfort I feel in the words of others much more brilliant and wise than I, who speak of something similar.

The more I know, the less I understand. – Don Henley

The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. – Anne Lamott

There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds. – Alfred, Lord Tennyson  (thank you, Ronna Detrick)

What do you think?  Is my developing faith just my subconscious trying to cope with the fearful uncertainty of the world?    Do either of these resonate with you?

8 thoughts on “The more I know, the less I understand”

  1. I agree. The older I get the less I seem to know. It’s crazy. My faith is stronger then it ever was. I hold on to it like a life jacket. It keeps me from drowning in the uncertainty of this world. It can be so painful and so joyful all at the same time. Thanks for getting my inside my head this morning 🙂 Have a wonderful day. Diane

  2. I consider the loss of certainty a sign of wisdom. I was full of certainty when I was 17; 20 years later, I’m full of doubt. And I’m pretty sure I know more now than I did back then.

    It seems like people can follow two paths as they age. One path is to develop ever-greater certainty about the world–this is the stereotype we often see about inflexible senior citizens, clinging to the world of their youth.

    My friend Don (who is 77) often tells me about how many of his contemporaries now spend all of their time watching Fox News. They seek out media that confirms their existing views–this isn’t unique to the aged, but seems particularly pronounced in the case of Don’s friends.

    The other is to realize that the world is full of uncertainty and ambiguity, and to take a more forgiving approach to all aspects of life.

    I’m glad you’ve chosen the second path.

  3. I just listened to a Sounds True podcast with Mark Nepo who says that the best place to meet someone is at “I don’t know.” It’s where we are most open and most ourselves. Uncertainty is so wise and so scary and so beautiful all at once. Thank you for articulating this so honestly and skillfully.

  4. Oh, Lindsey, my sister in the eternal ache of being human… so little in life is sure and clear, except the gift of it, as you well know. I join you in shaking your fists at the heavens, those heavens I trust but still find myself railing against. All we can do is shout into the wind and know our complaints turn into poetry. For taking a naked look at the bare realities of existence is the most beautiful kind of bravery. Please know your pain creates beauty, and keeps you tied to others, those connections being the delicate lace we weave from strands both of uncertainty and truth. xoxo

  5. Both the uncertainty and the faith resonate with me. I, too, feel more unsure all the time, and yet have developed a growing sense that the Universe is unfolding exactly as it should. I’m with you, babe. xoxo

  6. Without uncertainty, we could not have HOPE. And to quote Donald Sutherland in the Hunger Games…”Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.” I was diagnosed with a terminal illness four years ago, and I continue to exceed the expected prognosis. I have learned to embrace uncertainty, with all its good and bad, as without this uncertainty, I could not have HOPE. I believe HOPE has kept me alive.

    I continue to remind myself to discern between what I can control and what I cannot control. I can control some aspects of living a healthy lifestyle (exercise, healthy diet, meditation, seeking joy & laughter with loved ones…), while I recognize that I cannot control my medical condition.

    Lastly, it is worth recognizing that uncertainty creates some of the excitement in life.

    That being said, your thoughts resonate strongly with me. Thank you Lindsay for sharing.

  7. Oh yes, you. Your words describe my own experience perfectly: as I age, certainty declines as faith (or maybe it’s wonder?) increases, with almost mathematical precision.

    Can I offer another quote to add to your list? You’re actually responsible for my knowing it because you were the one who told me to read Devotion, where it’s from: “It wasn’t so much that I was in search of answers. In fact, I was wary of the whole idea of answers. I wanted to climb all the way inside the questions and see what was there.”


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