The Inherent Hope of Uncertainty

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Like many in the South, I grew up thinking that faith required conviction, and that uncertainty, or doubt, was what we experienced in moments of duress or weakness.

Like many here and everywhere, the older I get, the more I realize that I (and everyone else, particularly those with the most unyielding beliefs – about religion, politics, how we ought to live, whose football coach is the biggest cheater, whether Coca Cola or Miracle Whip makes a more moist chocolate cake – you name it) am utterly clueless.

I will be 37 next month. My daughter is 12, and every year she can remember, one of the teachers in her public school has asked the class to raise their hand as she reads off a list of Christian denominations. Because teachers when I was growing up did exactly the same thing during history units about “religious diversity” or the Reformation or the Puritans, I believe this is for the most part innocent if not completely ignorant, disrespectful and borderline unconstitutional.

And when she tells me she raises her hand for a different “random” denomination each year because she doesn’t want to feel left out or – worse, be called out – my heart aches because I know exactly what it was like to feel “othered” because, unlike the kids who were unquestionably BAPTIST! or CHURCH OF CHRIST! or raise-your-hand-if-you-are-CATHOLIC!, I went to a tiny Lutheran church where I constantly questioned and even fought against most everything we were taught.

I have always believed the biggest mysteries of the universe – why, if not how we are here; what happens when we die; are there others out there?; do dogs go to heaven?; is there heaven? – are beyond our ability to comprehend, much less explain.

That is why it has confused me at best (at worst, struck me as arrogant), when people express with unquestioning conviction their faith in constructs they themselves proclaim to be larger than us all.

But that is not a sentiment I’ve always been comfortable expressing, as – like my daughter is now – I grew up in a culture that equates courage with conviction. I have found the opposite to be true. It takes courage to live with uncertainty.

There are additional merits to uncertainty in matters of the world’s biggest questions:

Uncertainty provides tremendous opportunity to learn, evolve and connect with others whose backgrounds and experiences are different from our own.

Uncertainty gives us the permission we need to ask bigger and bolder questions, and the humility required to cope in those frequent times we don’t find answers.

Uncertainty opens doors for thoughtful conversation with people of contrasting viewpoints.

It is Sunday, a day of conviction for many here where I live. For me, it is a day to reflect on what I don’t know, and enjoy the grace that comes with that.

The universe is so spectacular and mysterious. As my daughter says, let’s not ruin it by trying to explain everything about it.

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112 thoughts on “The Inherent Hope of Uncertainty

  1. I don’t leave a response, but I read a ton of responses on The Inherent Hope
    of Uncertainty | Knight Stivender’s life in full. I actually do have
    a couple of questions for you if it’s allright.

    Could it be simply me or do a few of these comments
    come across like they are coming from brain dead folks? :-P And, if you are posting at additional sites, I’d like to
    follow everything fresh you have to post. Could you list of the complete urls of all your public pages like
    your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

  2. A lot of damage is done by those who are so sure they know all the answers and that their way is the right and only way. I went out with someone like that for a while and it was hard to live with. Always keep an open mind then you won’t be closing out new information and insights that may reshape your world in wonderful ways.

  3. Reblogged this on katebroadfield and commented:

    As a newly married woman living in a new country, I too find, like in planting a new garden, the hope of uncertainty is what fuels me.

    Brilliant observations from one in Nashville. I remember spending time in bookstore cafes with many intelligent people of experience. While this was a rewarding experience for me, all to often, friends’ opinions were so far developed, there was no space uncertainty, and certainly no space for my own young undeveloped opinions.

    As a newly married woman living in a new country, I too find, like in planting a new garden, the hope of uncertainty is what fuels me. –Kate

  4. Just came across this quote over the weekend, hadn’t yet had time to put it to use, so may as well start by giving it to you:
    “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”—Bertrand Russell, in “Mortals and Others”

  5. Wow… I love the way you say it. Its so true…I really hope that ppl will actually embrace it …I never thought so many ppl thought the same. Ppl in today’s society are complicating things in so many ways

  6. Knight, I like it. We all need uncertainty in our lives or we are dead. When people say “I don’t care what my child does in life just so long as she is happy,” I just hope they don’t get their wish. We are so much more than the pursuers of happiness (As it says in your Constitution.)
    Surely anguish and fright can be equally as fulfilling as simple wishy washy happiness. What about wonder, intrigue and uncertainty. As for God, He and I have been fighting for the last 70 years. He’ll probably win but I keep getting up for the next round. Be a good mother to your child. Give her the freedom to make mistakes.

  7. Your post really resonates with me at this moment, because I feel as if just recently I came out of a cloud of confusion and uncertainty where I started to question everything I believed in.

    During this time of uncertainty and confusion, I discovered so much more about myself, even though as I was experiencing confusion and discomfort, It was time to ride the wave and hang on. These are the times to just face them head on, because in allowing that wave to wash over me, I realized surprising and answers and clarity that I never expect. This gives me encouragement to hang on for that next one.

    Thanks again for your inspiring post!

  8. Loved your post. I’m a firm believer that the less we “know” the more opportunity the Universe (or God) has the freedom to channel through us and the more wonderful life becomes as a result.

  9. Very well said.
    I was a student of risk management. The truth is uncertainty is so “uncertain” that nothing works. I have those feelings when my mind strts dangling between two opposites. But what your daughter said is 100% correct. That’s how this world of God runs.

  10. Life offers up so many uncertainties. Uncomfortable uncertainties. The only certainty I have is of God’s love. I’ve felt His constant unconditional presence throughout my life. Open minds allow for growth and gleaned wisdom (something I’m working on), but closing ones mind stops the allowance of a free falling sort of faith…

  11. This is gorgeously written and encapsulates so much of what I believe– thank you! The universe is vast and beautiful and strange and beyond our understanding, and that in itself is what makes it truly divine.
    I look forward to writing the rest of your work!

  12. The ability to swim the oceans of uncertainty requires a boat “faith”: the willingness to trust something that other than yourself without having to question everything. Faith has been so misconstrued in this world to mean anything other than what it simply is: trust in something unseen that is true, and then acting upon it. Your willingness to accept the journey in that very ocean implies the simple, yet beautiful, faith that you already possess. Sometimes, it is that simplicity that allows us to fully live and enjoy what beauty there is in this world. Thanks for your thoughts…there is still beauty all around…

  13. I’m uncertain on most things. The only thing I believe without a doubt is that IF there is a heaven as we understand it (happiness, peace, best place ever, etc), animals DO go. I believe this because without animals, heaven could never be a happy place for me, so if we go to heaven, then animals definitely do

  14. Great post. I believe (!) that uncertainly is uncomfortable for us – and at every level, problems exist because it is easier to fix ourselves into the certainty of ‘rightness’ Rather than sit with ‘I don’t know’ which can make us feel uncomfortable, without firm ground to stand on, we force ourselves into a right-and-wrong opinion about almost everything. We get addicted to the feeling of ‘I am right’ my team/religion/political creed/ et al is right and has all the answers and your team/religion/political creed is wrong.

    That rigidity of absolute certainly gives a rather terrible security. But actually, our world IS full of uncertainly, mystery, who knows, and maybe the best i can do is surf-the-wave of where I am now and say ‘at this point my perceptions tell me this – or even, my beliefs make me SEE the world this way and I can’t because of this, see the facts which might make me believe a different way!’

    Ambiguity and the existence of both light and shade together, rather than this OR that – this AND that, demands, I think, an emotional maturity to accept that doubt and not knowing – or not knowing yet are the territory we really do – or should, live in>

    How lovely your daughter understands that – the adult world and its structures are often MUCH more infantile, and need the satisfaction of certainty.

    Well that is what I believe at 11.38 in the morning UKI time!

  15. “I have found the opposite to be true. It takes courage to live with uncertainty.” – brilliant. This is such a thought-evoking post. Indeed, uncertainty can be a good thing. It makes us realize that there is something much bigger than us. And isn’t this what faith partly teaches us anyway?

  16. From someone who grew up… a bit odd… in my traditional family… on my fathers side,,,this has been my message to others..,” we are all earth angels”…Thank you for your uncertainty…as Deepak Chopra …spoke..many years ago “beyond the intellect is uncertainty” where all possibility’s live,,,

  17. I loved the way its said – “The universe is so spectacular and mysterious. As my daughter says, let’s not ruin it by trying to explain everything about it.” Good read.

  18. I love this. And although, I don’t think it’s the path you’re taking with this (and that’s okay – still like it). God and truly believing in a divine being, is the most uncertain path in my life. It has been standing in the unknown.

    Now how do you…YOU (who wrote this) do that?

    I’m the everything has an explanation variety, and God is throwing me for a loop. Occasionally, I crack open my small thinking and just give it over to Christ. Tell God to handle it and leave it alone. Otherwise I’m super type A, always trying to wrangle.

    Still, I love that there are people who don’t have this ‘issue.’ When I grow up, I’ll be you. Lol. :)

    • Hmm. Does everything have an explanation? I have wavered in my thinking about that. Generally I believe that yes, it does – but often the explanation isn’t one we will ever comprehend.

      But that for every action there is a reaction, I try to be conscious that everything I personally do and say will leave a mark somehow, even in tiny and unintended ways those affected may never understand. That’s a Judeo-Christian mindset (do unto others…), but what’s funny is it’s also a Buddhist and Hindu one. We are all connected, and that gives me a certain peace when I feel thrown for a loop.

      Thanks for the provocative question.

  19. Wow such a thoughtful and enlightening view. My daughter and I were having this same conversation earlier today! Thank You it gave me hope and conviction that we are not alone in our beliefs!! Great comparison too!

      • “Just the other day two of my daughters suffered an anxiety attack at the same moment in two different states!” Come on what mother have dealt with it! I end up repeating my my mother speech twice that day and let me tell you I was DRAIN!!! Exhale, OMG!! Lord Help Us lol

  20. Your daughter is definitely in the right! Why on earth would we want to explain everything? To know all the answers to every question anyone has ever asked. There would be no adventure, no curiosity and nothing new. Sometimes not knowing is bliss.

  21. This post echoes so many of my thoughts! Being a minority in this country and living in southern half has been challenging. I have never been religious but have learned to be open to other faith(s) due to my raising years in India. I believe i wrote a post about it, sometime back. Like you, I find uncertainty enlightening. it awakens so many asleep, dark corners of mind and makes you curiously compassionate.
    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  22. Let me state that conviction doesn’t rule out uncertainty. Rather conviction says I have chosen a certain path amongst the uncertainty. And that’s where the courage can be found. Conviction should never refuse to accept the validity of other paths. Both living with convictions and uncertainty require courage. It takes courage to live period.

  23. I was a teacher in middle school, grades six,seven, and eight. I would never ask my students their religion. First it is none of my business. Second it could backfire, Third it could lead to a student getting upset with being asked and Finally to what purpose is the question. The idea is there is a division between church and state. Entering the religious sphere is frowned on and unless you are in a religious school you were told to avoid the conflict.

  24. Reblogged this on Tayview's Blog and commented:
    My old theology professor used to say – if you think you know the answers then you have got it wrong!

    Does faith require utter certainty or does it allow the seeking after further understanding and deeper truths?
    Or do should we subscribe fully to Anselm’s motto – faith seeking understanding?

  25. Thanks for a thought-provoking piece.

    Faith should never be expressed in dogmatism. For ,as my old Theology Professor said – if you think you have the answers then you have it wrong!

    Certainly the creator God of the Big Bang, far away galaxies and the inside of a flower is not going to be near fully comprehended by a few cubic centimetres of cells even if the human brain is capable of great wonders (and huge atrocities) in its own right.

    Let us seek on for the journey

  26. I like this a lot. As a Christian myself, I actually believe that we should live in uncertainty even though we have faith. There are so many things beyond our understanding (even though many people like to fill in the gaps) and we have to live with so many questions. It makes us better people, whether you believe in God or not.

  27. I think a great place to begin is there, asking, but I also think is a endless road and, as I can read in your post and in comments, we are partners in this journey!

  28. Isn’t it funny how so many religions emphasize faith above all else? (We even call them “faiths.”) People say it’s important to have faith, probably because they (mistakenly) equate faith with goodness. But why would the most important thing about a person be his or her ability to believe unproven stories of the supernatural? I think we’d be better off emphasizing kindness, and otherwise stick with a balance of confidence and doubt calibrated to strength of evidence.

  29. I think the fact that so many Christians are now finding a new path – away from “certainty” and living in the questions – is a healthy breath of fresh air. Obviously, the questions are bigger than any of us, and “God,” or whatever you want to call a theoretical higher power, is not something that can be comprehended. By definition.
    However, I do think that God can be experienced in many ways, through nature, art, community, and yes – through ancient sacred texts. It makes me sad that people who grew up in conservative Christian homes often throw out the baby with the bathwater, throwing God out with their organized religion.
    Having a certainty that one is unconditionally loved and that there is no reason to fear death is an awesome condition to be in – sadly, fundamentalist Christians often negate those very truths that ought to be the core of their message. Humans can screw up anything, even beautiful truths.
    Blessings and congrats on the FP!

  30. I think Faith is a wonderful thing. And it is indeed that, faith – meaning a belief in something you cannot prove, and therefore no better than anyone elses. Which makes it even better! Because you really shouldn’t be out there trying to disprove or disparage another’s faith, but rather using that energy to celebrate your own. That goes for the atheists, including my friends who like to passively attack Christianity on Facebook. Digging your beliefs isn’t about belittling the beliefs of others.

    I’m not uncertain about my faith, I’m steadfast in it. But I’m fine with always learning about it, learning from it, and accepting that it’s as imperfect as I am. What I am uncertain about is science, which I weigh as heavily as my faith. Uncertain because it’s always changing and that’s the beauty and wonder of it! And how does one balance science and faith equally? Well I wholly agree with the Big Bang Theory. I just believe God made it happen :)

  31. I loved your tittle as it drew me to your post. I was laughing out loud at my own comment I had just embarrassed myself by making on WP “weekly challenge” contest. Being a lover of information and earnestly seeking answers to these things of which you write, I had lambasted WP for their inane directions on how to enter. My comment felt strikingly familiar to your title.

    http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/writing-challenge-fifty/#comment-338652

    (Full disclosure: My blog is written for personal reasons, not monetized or even aggrandized through WP (yet somehow I’m starting to get a momentous following from other quarters).

    Back to your post. Though you and I may differ on some issues, I believe you are beginning to ask the right questions. My study has led me down numerous paths and dead ends, and links to other more enlightening areas in these regards. I’m an objectivist more than anything but that doesn’t disallow opinion and even criticism where i find stupidity or injustice.

    Religion (opinion/fact) was not created to answer these issues. And though science may have been it is finding itself to be more like a dog chasing his own tail. I doubt he will ever catch it. Uncertainly at its most certain. Philosophy is more likely to marry the above as one idea which “could” be right, likely off center. The answer I believe lies in history to most of your issues. The HISTORY OF THE WORLD or as much as we can piece together. This is a very deep rabbit hole and yet the deeper you go the closer truth comes focus. One must take in large amounts of information but have the sagacity to discount and distill much of it by understanding who wrote it when and likely why. There truly has been a veil, which has morphed and evolved but has led us into the morass we are in.

    And though this is my passion currently, if you read my blog you will only find glimpses of what I’ve discovered within, because as you (and I) agree on, the answer isn’t as important as what we are doing about it now. Every mundane day. I urge you to visit my site and if anything interests you, read on. Cheers!

    http://mostdiggity.wordpress.com/

  32. “I grew up in a culture that equates courage with conviction. I have found the opposite to be true. It takes courage to live with uncertainty.” –Loved this. It really does take strength to live with uncertainty, because uncertainty opens multiple destinations we have to face and digest. It’s thrilling. Who needs boring, old certainty anyway. (:

  33. I agree, well said! I am not of one thing i simply want to enjoy life and learning. Maybe there is a god, maybe there is gods, maybe it we are simply random production of science!

  34. I relate to this in nearly every way (apart from being younger and not having a child). When I grew up I went sunday school, a church of england school, then I dated an extremely Christian girl whom I went church with a few times. She would always ask me about my faith, and most the time I didn’t know. I do politics and philosophy, and I’m taught to question this. I question everything, what will happen if I die, if I do this, if I do that. I feel my uncertainty to be a refreshing freedom in which in can explore my innermost feelings, and try new religions, texts, thoughts, beliefs, idea. I even debate at meetings specifically about issues like this, and I always find myself stuck between to large opposing forces, meaning I’m being attacked from all angles. To the believe I say what about a scientific route, to the non-believer I feel obliged to give a point of view from faith, a what if.

    However freeing these views are, I feel it a curse. The uncertainty at times terrifies me. It bothers me when I get onto the topic. I don’t know whether to hedge my bets, or just use the teachings of Marcus Aurelius and his quote about belief in the gods.

    Shameless plug I know, I hope to address issues like this in my blog exsehptional.wordpress.com. Hope you get time to reply to this, I rarely find people who are totally undecided, with some religious experience, but with a near total open mind.
    Thanks
    Sehp

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