I'm currently preparing to teach a new session of my Bible study, Comforter and Conqueror, this week. My process includes doing the homework I've written for others. Today, I was reading the first week's Scripture, Psalm 136, and verse five went to my heart.
"who by his understanding made the heavens..."
Understanding. That word has so much weight. God was able to create the wonders by everything he knows, from the workings of the polarized charges of the atom that holds matter together, to the way light waves bend and are received by human eyes. By his understanding, he created all things and made them beautiful. Then he made us capable of seeing, feeling, touching, tasting and having emotional reactions to the beauty of what was made.
I remember talking to my mom about her fear of flying in airplanes years ago. She said that she didn't trust them because she doesn't understand how they work. I told her, "Mom, you don't understand how your phone works. But you use it every day." (And this was a long time ago. We were talking about the wall-mounted phone, with a cord.)
When I pause to think about how much we don't understand about life, science, people, technology, medicine, and God himself, really, I should fall to my knees in humility. And I should also release myself from the burden of trying to understand and solve everything around me.
Can anyone relate?
When my kids got sent home from school last March, and the government started making decisions about what should be open and what shouldn't, and health agencies started debating what was safe to do and what wasn't, it was incredibly stressful. And I made myself a little crazy for about a month tying to figure out what was right, what was true, and what my opinion was about the right thing to do to handle the pandemic: keep people from getting sick and dying, educate all the kids of the nation, and save the economy.
And then I came to a place of surrender. I realized that forming a concrete opinion didn't give me power over the big picture. No matter what my opinion was, I could not bring it about in a large scale. I began to pray. God give me wisdom. God help me surrender.
Do you see how surrender could be a hard thing to do when you are raised in a democracy? If we really think about it, democracy is not exactly safe or reasonable: laymen like us vote on complex social and economic issues about which we have little knowledge. It takes my husband hours to read through our voting packets and try to figure out who to vote for and what the laws and measures actually mean. And yet, so often what we believe and how we talk about people and politics get reduced to soundbites and black and white opinions.
Something you know about me by now: I like knowledge. I'm a learner, a researcher and a thinker. I desire for my opinions to be based on as much impartial knowledge as I can find But I'm finding that the more I know, the more I realize what I don't know.
And this makes me very eager to listen.
First, to God. Proverbs 3:5-6 say Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. I have spent less time in the last couple of weeks reading the news -- which always tempts me to decide what I think is the solution to my city, state, country or world's problems. I've spent more time reading God's word, and listening to trusted people teach it. I've spent more time praying for God to rescue us from the pandemic, and asking for wisdom on how I can parent my children well and teach well in my Bible study and speaking engagements.
Second, I'm listening to other people, particularly people who are "unlike" me in their life experiences. I teach on the subjects of which I have personal understanding. I understand what it's like to be a mother, a writer, to struggle with anxiety and depression, post-partum depression, and addiction, for example. These are issues specific to these ways of being that are difficult to understand without having experienced them; and yet my experience with them is also unique to me in many ways.
The subjects on which I don't have personal experience are enormous: what it's like to be poor, hungry, or a refugee. What it's like to be a man. What it's like to be a Black woman. Or a veteran. Or an Asian American. And among those categories (somewhat randomly chosen based on issues that keep coming up in my news feed and heart), each of those people have infinitely different experiences. This makes me humble in my opinions about complex social issues. And just as I have something to say about things I've experienced, I think the most important people to listen to in forming an opinion about others is to listen to their experience.
My favorite lines of the peace prayer of St. Francis are these:
Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Without understanding, we can't have peace. Without understanding we can't have reconciliation. And without humility, we can't really gain understanding. To paraphrase a "Friends" episode, we don't even know what we don't know.
Readers, I really love you. And I don't understand how or why -- but I do. And I'm praying for each of us this week that we will love with all our soul by seeking to understand one another. I'm praying we have ears to hear complex truth, and not just mouths to speak soundbites that can hurt one another. Psalm 136 says that God made all things by his understanding. But, more importantly, every other line of that 26-verse Psalm says "his love endures forever." God's understanding is the how of creation but his love is the why. May you connect to that love this week.
Because it's Black History Month, and also, because I believe that the Holy Spirit is seeking to do a new work of understanding and reconciliation in this country and the Church, I encourage you to begin to listen to some people who truly understand the Black experience in America. I'm not endorsing every post or opinion you'll see here, but invite you to listen to their perspectives. Here are some Instagram accounts to follow:
Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil, author, speaker, reconciliation expert @saltermcniel
Jackie Hill Perry, author and Bible teacher @jackiehillperry
Latasha Morrison, author and founder of Be the Bridge @latashamorrison
Priscilla Shirer, Bible teacher @priscillashirer
Brownicity, nonprofit organization for anti-race/ism education @brownicity
Osheta Moore author, @oshetamoore
Jonathan Blake Evans @jonathanblakeevans
Carlos Whittaker, author @loswhit