I must be getting old.
It seems like everywhere I go there’s someone who has all the answers (even if you’re not asking the questions), and feels obligated to share their abundant knowledge forcefully. Suddenly, I feel like a true minority, steeped in my ignorance.
At least the experience is bringing back some warm memories. It wasn’t that many years ago that I was the young whip with all of the answers. I was brilliant. I had read all of the right books, and there were few questions about life in general that I couldn’t handle.
Then, one day, an older friend and fellow-believer overheard me saying those tell-tale words: “Gee, I don’t really know.” He came to me later and said, “Well, Dan, I guess you’re really maturing as a believer.” I asked him what prompted that comment and he said, “You don’t know everything anymore, and you don’t have all of the answers in your hand. That’s a real sign of maturity.”
It took me a while to understand what he was saying. These days, I understand it just fine. When you’re a child, your concept of “growing up” is pretty shallow. As you grow older, you begin to see “growing up” in a different light. Spiritually speaking, it seems almost like negative growth at times. Maturity in Christ is a paradox — the more we mature, the more we know of Christ, and the more we see our need for further maturity. If you see someone who really thinks he or she is spiritually mature, they’re actually displaying their immaturity.
Confused yet? Let me sum this up in simple terms. I’ve never known anyone who was a mature, growing believer who really considered themselves to be mature. In fact, I can tell you from personal experience that, if you think you’ve really reached a new peak of maturity, you’d better watch out. You’re about to learn how mature you aren’t—the hard way.
Growing believers go through a cycle that is not unlike what we observe with children. Children start out totally dependent, and they don’t know very much at all. They grow and learn, and go through school, and learn more. At some point in their teen years, they reach a point where they begin to assert all that they have learned and all that they know in such an aggressive manner that they seem to think that they know everything, and therefore don’t need to listen, learn, or follow directions any further. They’ve got all the answers, any anyone who would question or disagree with them is simply ignorant or unenlightened.
Eventually, most people emerge from that “all the answers” phase. Some of us grow out of it faster, but usually we see that parents grow considerably in intelligence and wisdom as their kids pass between their late teems and mid 20’s. There’s usually a point of passage in there, where the kid actually starts asking Mom and Dad for advice —and actually listens and considers their input. They finally realize that they don’t have all the answers.
I know for sure that I don’t have all the answers. There are many times when I wish I had all the answers—when I desperately wanted to respond to the questions of a grieving mother or father with some sort of real answer. But I really didn’t have any answers—all I could say was “I don’t know,” and let them cry on my shoulder.
Which, come to think of it, might have been a good answer, after all.