It is a fairly common human tendency to want to understand how things work. We take apart machines, cars, watches, analyzing their inner workings and putting them back together to see them clicking and whirring again. We record and re-record and mull over scientific data about biology and physics. We avidly seek connections between what events have occurred in our lives and what emotions we are currently experiencing; our anger is a result of unmet expectations, our sadness of unfulfilled desires, our joy of peaceful circumstances, our neuroses of childhood trauma. Our chronic heartburn comes from an acidic diet, our sleeplessness from caffeine abuse, our weight gain from sugars or fatty foods or passivity. It is imperative to our growth, we feel, that we source every discomfort and root it out, and trace every pleasure to its origin that we may repeat its cause.
Even in the 12 steps, there is an expectation that we do this with our sin, and on the whole it is a very helpful, though daunting, process. We inventory our indiscretions and fears and analyze them for patterns of behavior that are indicative of larger inadequacies in our hearts and minds.
There are times when this activity is highly productive. Every aspect of modern civilization, from medicine to transportation to nutrition to nuclear power, results from human exploration into the deeper, the smaller, the more fundamental. Like any mostly profitable behavior, however, when left unchecked it has the capacity to become out of balance, and ultimately, idolatrous and destructive.
i have now been at my job long enough that i have begun to learn what really makes the place tick. i have begun to get a grasp on the personalities and motivations of my superiors, and i have a large enough sample size of their behaviors that i am presumptuous enough to think i know what they are thinking when they do something that i don’t understand. When i first started, i did not concern myself with these things. i was grateful for the job, and spent my time working as diligently as possible, putting forth the greatest effort i could muster to express my gratitude. Almost a year later, i find myself thinking instead about this particular policy, or some element of someone else’s job that isn’t being being done according to what i think is the best way.
i have pulled back the curtain, and i am less than impressed with the wizard.
But it is important to remember that the wizard is just a man, just as my bosses at work are merely human: humans who also have fears and struggles and insecurities who are not simply gears in a giant machine that is designed to produce exactly the kind of results that i am looking for. In fact, frankly, the opposite ends up being true. When i have the proper perspective, i must realize that it is i who am the cog, and when i am slipping out of lock with my counterparts or not turning at all, the machine begins to break down. My responsibility is not to stop doing my part and worry what other gears are not doing their part, it is to keep doing my part regardless of what may be going on elsewhere.
This has powerful implications in my spiritual life. It is very easy after Divine Grace has allowed me be comfortable that I start letting my heart and mind believe that i understand how God works and what He is planning and thinking. Then, when things occur in my life that i do not understand and cannot source, i begin to feel frustrated and betrayed. Truth lies not in laboring harder and pleading more fervently to understand my circumstances, but in humbly allowing myself to get back to the place where understanding is none of my concern.
i am blessed to be a cog in God’s machine at all. It is grace that has allowed me even the most minute role in his work. I should have the same gratitude about this opportunity as i do when i begin a new job, and be happy to do my part. Ultimately, there is a profound and new freedom in not understanding, in not even needing to understand, instead in trusting the One who does. Children do this all of the time when they implicitly trust authority to know better than they. But the heart of adult man is bruised and battered and has had that trust violated repeatedly by a broken creation, so it is difficult for him to do the same. Nevertheless i must let go of that hurt, and of the drive to comprehend, even if what i am trying to comprehend is my own fickle psyche.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 18 : 3