I’ve spent a lot of time in school. Like most people, I was required to assimilate and regurgitate information. I’ve learned arithmetic, the parts of speech, capitals, countries, continents, and species of flora. Buried in my brain is The Periodic Table, multiplication tables, and the chemical formula for table salt. I can still recite the first few lines of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales in Middle English: “Whan that aprill with his shoures soote, the droghte of march hath perced to the roote…” Oh, the trauma!
I’m naturally curious so learning is enjoyable. Even though I’m an anxious student when it comes to grades, I do find pleasure in exploring new ideas and perspectives. The human experience is broad and varied, and I want to understand it more fully.
Getting more personal, I want to know why I do what I do (and don’t do). Where I come from and why I am the way I am. My DNA says I’m a blend of Dutch, English, German, Scottish, and Norse (in that order). I’m Enneagram Type 5, wing 6. Myers-Briggs pegs me as INTJ. My top five Strengthsfinder characteristics are Input, Intellection, Learner, Achiever, and Responsibility. More than one spiritual gift assessment has suggested I have the gifts of teaching, administration, and pastoral care. And for the rest of my life, I think I’ll struggle with perfectionism, anger, and remembering names.
All these things are data offering insight into me. Anecdotal evidence generally confirms my assessed proclivities, propensities, priorities, and personality. Much of it has been helpful in my development. I have matured, even though at times I don’t feel any different than my 16-year old self. Now 51, I’m taking stock and finding there are times when I’m a bit too smug about the categories and lists and mantras I’ve collected to neatly define my identity, clarify my “issues,” and predict my behavioral response.
Frankly, I feel squashed beneath all the charts, graphs, types, and profiles. While such things have been quite helpful, my heart is yearning for more mystery. Rather than settle into pathways prescribed by what I think I know about me, I’m drawn to release myself more fully to God. Over the past few months, I’ve been inviting His presence to help me listen, discern, embrace, and respond to my experience of Him. I’m asking for a deeper trust that fuels a desire to risk moving beyond the false comfort of self-knowledge to submitting myself to the One who knew me before I saw light.
Thomas Merton said, “What is the use of knowing our weakness if we do not implore God to sustain us with His power?” (Thoughts in Solitude, p.48) I know a lot about me. And for too long I’ve focused on what’s broken. Paid too much attention to the “lies” of my shadow self, trying to correct through self-diagnosis. At times I found it easier to commiserate over failures than to lament and repent.
I want a deeper faith. A greater love. More trust that Jesus can direct my life better than I can. To slow my chase after knowledge and respond to God’s invitation to dwell with Him in those places that confuse, confound, frustrate, and irritate me. Places that defy analysis, categories, and predictable outcomes.
As I pray for fortitude and courage to that end, I’m remembering the Apostle Peter. In a moment when many of those following Jesus were turning away, the Lord asked Peter if he, too, was going to leave. Peter replied (I imagine with passion): “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68, ESV)
Indeed, who else but Jesus.