Dwell in the “I Don’t Know”: how to tolerate unknowns with patience and great hope

“There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth…”

John 16:12-13

I got a letter and a care package from a close friend about a month ago. You’ll laugh at me for this, but sometimes, when I get a really good letter, I highlight it and tape it to my wall. I actually wish I could do this in conversations, too, because every once in a while someone says something, and I know I’m going to need to sit with it. 

Here’s what I highlighted this time:

“I’ve always been the one to skip ahead a few chapters so I could resolve my internal tension. And yet God invites us to stay on the current page with all of its unresolved questions and tension.”

The same week, going through Jen Wilkin’s Bible Study on the book of Hebrews, I wrote down these points from her teaching as she encouraged her readers to take their time with the challenging portions of the text:

– Dwell in the “I don’t know.”
– Feel the difference between what you know and what you hope to know. 
– Slow down. Don’t rush the application. Confusion is part of the learning process.

I started sensing a theme.

In small group at church, the author of our study challenged us to “make big, giant, hairy plans”  because God is able to do more than we can even imagine. A year ago, I would have been right with him. I’ve seen the Lord provide above and beyond and carry us over obstacles in ways I couldn’t possibly imagine. He is so worthy of our unwavering confidence and I want everyone I know to just GO for it, trusting Him with all their might, because nothing is too hard for Him.

But this year has been confusing for me! The pregnancy, the sickness, the exit, the baby’s brain, the delay, the camper crash, the transition…there are a lot of questions there that can put me in knots if I let them. Maybe you have some, too. I know our God is absolutely able to give us strength to carry out big plans. But I also know big plans can come crashing down and it turns out God was doing something else, at least for a time. It leaves me a little at a loss for how to prepare for what’s next.

If God’s going to accomplish whatever it is anyway, is there a way to plan responsibly, but skip the roller coaster of trying to guess what it is?

How do we work with all our hearts toward what He has in store for us – how do we invite it and invest in it and cooperate with it and expect it – without the whiplash and the heartbreak of getting yanked around the next unexpected corner?

We have to stop guessing what’s next and just do right now. We have to stay on the current page. We have to get comfortable in the tension. Because the relief that comes from filling in the answers early is a false peace, and it will keep letting us down.

“…Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:34

“Better to be patient than powerful, better to have self-control than to conquer a city.”
Proverbs 16:32

Patient people don’t rush to resolve things. They’re not in a hurry when they’re working through something with other people, when they’re teaching, or when they’re learning.

“…We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.”
2 Corinthians 4:8

Patient people can tolerate confusion without losing hope.

Oh Lord,

This is not an easy thing to learn. I would rather teach Bible Studies and do missions work and mentor young people and make presentations and sing worship songs than let it all rest and learn what you have to teach me here. But my impatience will stain all that I do. It will hurt people. It will limit how far I can take people. It will limit how long I can last. In marriage, in parenting, in healthcare, language learning, potty training, grocery shopping, housework…you name it, I am in a rush. 

But when I abide in you, you produce the fruit of patience. 

“I have told you all this so you may have peace in me.”
John 16:33

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
John 14:27

The why’s and the what’s next…If you haven’t given me the answers – they are not what would have given me peace. I don’t need them and other people don’t need them either. Humble my heart to say “I don’t know and I’m content with that.” You have not chosen to reveal it yet. And you are withholding nothing good. (Psalm 84:11)

“For whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works…”
Hebrews 4:10

My work does not yet come out of rest. My heart is not yet quieted by your peace. I sit with the tension and I ache day in and day out as I move through my tasks, confronted over and over again with “I don’t know yet. I don’t get it. I’m frustrated. I see my impatience: glaring me in the face, springing to the surface, pleading for resolution.”

But the tension and the confusion serve a purpose. They are part of the learning process. They show up in the areas where God is about to produce growth. They are the highlighter that marks out where I am still striving.

“…Letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.” 
Romans 8:6

Yielding, not striving, produces peace and life. The flesh demands answers, explanations, and an itinerary. The Spirit says “trust me.” And trust breeds patience.

“For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
James 1:3-4

Lord, reassure me that when difficulty tests my trust, it’s training, not punishment; and I am building valuable endurance. Teach me to sit patiently in what I do not yet know, because you have given me a sufficient guide who WILL lead me into all truth. Remind me not to rush the application, but to step back and appreciate the gaps in my understanding as places where you can enter in.

“In Him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Colossians 2:3

So show me where I have a gap. Quiet my heart with your peace when I’m tempted to panic over what I do not know. Build in me a maturity and humility that tolerates the unknowns with patience and great hope. May I feel the tension and be able to wait, because I know you are producing growth. May I learn and learn and learn from you, my humble and gentle teacher.

The Finisher: who is our hope when the race stretches long?

“…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…”
Hebrews 12:2

Who is the finisher? Is it me?

No.

As I run this race and seek to endure, am I called to look inward to find what I need to finish? 

No.

Should I worry that I will somehow miss the calling and steps He has marked for me?

No.

The work before me has been prepared from long ago (Eph 2:10), and even when it is brutal and difficult, the One on whom this depends does not yield until it is finished.

He will finish what He has started concerning me.

The race stretches out before me, and it holds difficulty, darkness, precarious footing, an unrelenting incline, obstacles, and constant distractions.

But the Finisher lights a lamp for me in my darkness, enables me to stand on mountain heights, strengthens me to endure, helps me to scale every wall, makes my way perfect, and spreads the path wide before my feet.

He shows me how to run for the joy set before me, clinging to the certain hope that we will not fall short of the finish.

Psalm 18

27 You rescue the humble,
    but you humiliate the proud.
28 You light a lamp for me.
    The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
29 In your strength I can crush an army;
    with my God I can scale any wall.

30 God’s way is perfect.
    All the Lord’s promises prove true.
    He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
31 For who is God except the Lord?
    Who but our God is a solid rock?
32 God arms me with strength,
    and he makes my way perfect.
33 He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
    he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.
35 You have given me your shield of victory.
    Your right hand supports me;
    your help has made me great.
36 You have made a wide path for my feet
    to keep them from slipping.

Heavenly Peace? when there’s no rest for the weary

“Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.'”

-Mark 6:31


I like this verse. Can I get an “amen” for the take-a-break verse? Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile. Good. plan. Jesus. 

He’d been serving all day. He hadn’t eaten. The people were non-stop. It was time for a pause. He got in a boat. He sailed away. Up to this point, I’m tracking with him. Yep, follow Jesus’ example. When you get too tired of the people, go get some rest so you can have a fresh start! 

But then.

Then the people figured out his plan and ran ahead to meet him on the other side. I read the verse and my insides wailed for him. 

No, no, no, no, just give the man ONE SECOND, you needy, annoying people!!!

But that is not how Jesus responded. 

This chapter in Mark is famous. It’s the one that describes how Jesus took one boy’s lunch and fed 5000 families. But I think there’s another miracle in this story – one that happened so swiftly and so subtly it’s often overlooked:

“Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them…”

-Mark 6:34

The needs were so constant he couldn’t even get a meal in. They followed him everywhere on foot, so he arranged to travel by boat to get away from them. He wanted a quiet place and rest. He got a crowd of people asking for more. 

He stepped off the boat, recognized his plan was ruined, and in that moment of realization, his heart cared for them more than it cared for his break. 

The Greek translates it this way: “He was moved in the inward parts to feel compassion for them.”

He moved toward them. And not just outwardly. 

I often do what is necessary externally, but pull away on the inside. I sigh and shake my head and move toward the needs before me, but with a frustrated and resentful heart. It was not so with him.

Jesus didn’t plan to endlessly meet needs. He recognized that he needed rest. He chose to pause ministry and step away to recharge. But when that pause was interrupted – he was willing for it to be. When the boat ride was all the break he got, he took it and moved on, without a fit, without any harsh words. And with a gracious heart, he turned toward the people and the work before him, instead of back to the idea of the rest he had been hoping for.

Lord,

Work this miracle in me. Give me wisdom to plan for rest, but grace to receive the work I’m given when it comes unexpectedly. Train my heart to accept the boat-ride breaks with thankfulness and to readily feel compassion for the people you place before me in those interruptions that make me want to retreat.

Help me to see that, in the same way, you are moved with compassion for me. 

After all, this time of year is all about remembering how glad I am that your heart decided to move toward my need.