Last week I spent time helping Noah, my oldest, study for his spelling test. As a part of it, he had to write sentences with his words, using them correctly. Since he had received the challenge list that particular week, figuring out sentences to write was difficult: It's one thing to know how to spell the thing; it's totally different to be able to use it correctly in a sentence. Pretty soon he was asking me what words meant. What did I do? The same thing my mom did to me.
I brought out the dictionary and told him to start looking them up.
What I realized as I watched him do this is that he could not alphabetize. I had to walk him through step-by-step to think about what letters came next, combing through the words on the dictionary page searching for the match he needed. My son is a very intelligent boy. But when you are never required to use a skill, it is never developed. So when all he has to do is type a word into the computer for an instant answer, he never has to know how to look it up in a dictionary. Living in a Google culture has stripped us of the ability to understand the placement of words in the English language in the same way that GPS has made us directionally illiterate. I wonder sometimes what would happen if we had to learn how to navigate once again simply by the light of the north star. Would anyone on earth ever be able to find their way home again? These skills are not obsolete. They are important. They have meaning beyond the simple task they help us accomplish.
There was much protest, much lamentation:
--"Can't you just tell me what it means?"
--"Let me just look it up on your phone."
--"Mom! You are so old fashioned! Why are you making me do this?!"
I told him I was getting back at my own mother.
I remember my frustration. Well, I didn't fuss so much about writing out the definitions of my spelling words as a kid. That was expected, part of homework. But it drove me insane every time I would casually ask my mother what a word meant, just because I wanted to know, and she would say (each time), "Look it up!"
I didn't realize it then, but my mom was giving me a priceless gift. She was teaching me how to make my way in life when things don't always make sense, when I encounter problems that do not have ready answers. Those are times that call for wisdom and informed action.
Relying on someone else to supply our answers can be a dangerous proposition. What if they are wrong? Misinformed? What if they are fraudulent and self-serving? What if they are not equipped to understand the subtleties of our need, assuming a one size fits all solution that does not work in our situation? Isn't it much wiser to do the hard thing, learning truth instead of slipping in someone else's response into our blank places? Isn't it better to know the right answer because we applied ourselves to the work of learning?
It's not enough to supply right answers. We need to know why it is right. This is the only way that answers stick. So that we have it readily available when life tries to stump us again. Easy answers really require more work in the long run. We will find our selective ignorance has us running all over creation trying to find the same solutions over and over . Learning something well the first time gives us a storehouse of knowledge that stays with us forever. And as an added bonus, we know our own worth as one who is able. Able to meet challenges head-on, able to seek out solutions, able to apply what we find to the real needs we encounter. These are gifts I want to give my son.
So I taught him how to look up his spelling words on his own.
I am thinking now about knowledge as power--knowing as a way of being in the world that gives us the power to choose and to do in a way that corresponds to the Good Intentions of our creation. In the same way that knowing how to find the meaning of a word empowers Noah to respond to his academic challenges, this kind of knowing empowers us to overcome adversity and experience the meaningful life we desire. As we come to know God, we come to know how to live the life we were made for.
The last two weeks I have been meditating on a verse that speaks to this:
In Greek the word for "know" has the connotation of being a first hand knowledge, one that touches the One being known. To know this way necessitates personal involvement. We have to get ourselves into the stuff of trying to live our lives with Him in it, working out what it means to live with the Redeemer while our own personal redemption is being accomplished. This knowledge can be messy. It demands much. It asks something of us that is hard to give.17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. Ephesians 1:17-19
The crux of this knowledge has everything to do with relationship. And are we really willing to enter into relationship with God? To know the Creative Agitator not as we want Him to be, but as supreme Other? True relating to God cannot be defined not by our wishes. God refuses to bend His Being and Doing to our will. In the same way that my son disparaged the effort it cost him to truly know the meaning of a word, we can sometimes get exasperated with the effort this spiritual connection costs us. I wonder if the source of so much aggravation in our spiritual lives stems from this stubbornness on our part--that we refuse to accept God on His own terms. We complain that we seem to make no headway with our lives, and yet we refuse the vehicle which makes breakthrough possible. There are no shortcuts to this kind of God knowledge. God will not bend to my will no matter how much I pray and plead!
But what if for one second the everyone in the whole world gave themselves to knowing God this way? What possibilities would become realities? How would choosing and doing change? How would the results of these different choosing's and doing's change the world? The relinquishment of ourselves into this relationship translates into God's power manifest in our ordinary living and breathing. As the scripture says--we don't just come to know God: we know the hope of our calling; we know the riches of His glorious inheritance; we know the immeasurable greatness of His power. The same power that brought Jesus back to life from the dead is released into us and through us!
What does it look like, this knowing that changes everything? It is born of personal encounter. When I seek to relate to God through my ordinary circumstances, listening for His voice, reading the Bible as a way to allow scripture to search me, wrestling with what it means to show up everyday in my home and place of work as one who follows Jesus, then my knowing takes on life. It is no longer a theoretical proposition but a verb with the power of motility. And when I go further, changing my behavior in favor of what I sense God is asking of me, then it opens the door for His Resurrection power to work on my behalf--not just in me, but through me and for me. Making that connection and acting upon it changes our efforts from useless motion, "a beating of the air" (I Corinthians 9:26), to power-full action. It is an inner disposition that sets forth transformation. Our lives literally change from the inside out.
It is as if we opened the door to heaven and the power of the risen Christ pours right in to our very souls. We begin to understand that there is more at play within us and around us than merely our human, wimpy selves. We begin to see Divine strength supporting, enriching, directing, and empowering our efforts. We begin to understand that God is orchestrating a great production in which we play a small but critical part. Our efforts, our choosing and doing directed and empowered by God, begin to impact the world around us in ways we never could have imagined.
And we begin to know our worth as those who are able. Able to courageously meet challenges head-on, able to discern solutions to impossible situations, able to translate those solutions into tangible actions change the real needs we encounter. We find we are able because the Power of God has been made visible within our own messy selves.