Kendall Harmon: The Joy and Challenge of Not Knowing

Posted by Kendall Harmon

“Oh Dad, there is just so much I do not know.”

We dropped our oldest child Abigail off at her first year of College in August. You may remember that my mother died of cancer this past March. It is a year of rites of passage in the family.

Not long ago Abigail was in our den with her mother and me, expressing her anxiety the day before she left to go to school. One thing after another was named, and then it built into a crescendo, which ended with the quote with which I began above. She was so very frustrated with how little she knew about what her future would look like.

Who could blame her? She didn’t know what her roommate’s personality was, what her major would be, who she would end up being friends with, whether she would like her professors, what she would think of Ohio (she is attending Wooster), and on and on and on.

Hold that thought, I said to my daughter. For it was only the day before that I was having my daily devotions and reading in Hebrews 11 when a verse jumped off the page at me:
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go” (verse 8).

I spent a lot of time thinking about what that verse really meant in Abraham’s own experience. He did not know if he would even make it to the place, he did not know what it would be like when he got there, he did not know how long he would stay, or what the implications for his family would be, and his list, too, was very long. But nevertheless he went in faith, for faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

So instead of not knowing being something to lament, it is something to be embraced. For if we did know all that we want to, we would not need to depend on God but on ourselves, putting us on exactly the wrong road when it comes to discipleship.

It is a shame there is not more preaching on and study of the book of Ecclesiastes these days. Vanity of vanities, the writer says about life. The word in Hebrew is a word used for vapor; no matter how hard he tries, the vapor of what he sees always eludes the writer’s grasp as he tries to fathom it. Life is apparently inscrutable in Ecclesiastes. It is not known how God is working his purpose out.

According to Ecclesiastes life is not so much a problem to be solved as a mystery to be lived. Not knowing is a good thing that drives us back to faith, back to our knees before the one who made Heaven and earth.

So I told my daughter that I was right with her in struggling with not knowing. I didn’t know what exactly would happen the next day, where and how I would ultimately end up serving, how her younger sister would like her new school, whether the Anglican Communion would really have a future as a genuine communion, and my list, too, was very long.

But there is one thing we DO know about the future, I told her. God is there. And the God who holds the future holds us in his hands right now as he calls us to go out in faith in the midst of so many unknowns every single day.

--The Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall S. Harmon is editor of the Anglican Digest and convenor of this blog

Filed under: * By Kendall

Posted November 26, 2007 at 6:44 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. D. C. Toedt wrote:

Nicely done, Kendall. And I would bet a significant sum that she’ll remember your counsel. I’m constantly surprised when my own teenagers quote back at me something I told them long ago (sometimes I don’t even remember telling them).

The problem is that teens often hit us with a question (they might do so openly, or they might keep it to themselves): “Why should I believe that God holds us in his hands — I’m not even sure there is a God.” When I co-taught high-school Sunday school, at the beginning of each year I would hand out 3x5 index cards and ask the students to write down, anonymously, any topics they’d like to see the class cover. Consistently, the #1 question was “How do we really know there’s a God?”  Many teens don’t find the usual answers to be persuasive.

November 26, 10:33 am | [comment link]
2. Dee in Iowa wrote:

I will be attending my granddaughter’s graduation from Texas A&M;the 15th.  She too, doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life.  I will print your message and give it to her along with the graduation present…..thanks Fr. Kendall

November 26, 11:23 am | [comment link]
3. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

Inspiring piece - thanks - made me think of ‘the gate of the year’

November 26, 3:50 pm | [comment link]
4. Michael Bertaut wrote:

Thanks so much for this piece, for sharing that bit of your life with us.  I too am constantly assailed by my children (17, 12, 10) about what’s going to happen next.  It almost seems they are programmed to worry and wonder.  My peace, which I always considered shaky, is monumental by comparison. 

I hope you don’t mind if I borrow your response (with attribution, of course!)


November 26, 7:21 pm | [comment link]
5. writingmom15143 wrote:

I remember those same feelings over 3 decades ago when I left for the College of Wooster.  And God blessed my time there in the most amazing and incredible ways…And the blessings continue today.
I’ll be praying for Abigail (and Elizabeth and Kendall!)

November 26, 11:27 pm | [comment link]
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