“I am no scientist. I explore the neighborhood. An infant who has just learned to hold his head up has a frank and forthright way of gazing about him in bewilderment. He hasn’t the faintest clue where he is, and he aims to learn. In a couple of years, what he will have learned instead is how to fake it: he’ll have the cocksure air of a squatter who has come to feel he owns the place. Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly set down, if we can’t learn why.” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard, 13-14)
I read this the other day and couldn’t help but be reminded of our status as children of God. Sometimes we get it in our heads that we are the ultra-mature, successful and learned adult children of God, but I think that’s us sorely missing the point (which, let’s be honest, most children are good at doing).
We are vulnerable, inherently ignorant (in the sense that we definitely cannot know or understand all things), impressionable people, who always have much to learn. When we lose touch of this reality, scary things happen to our perspectives of ourselves, others, and, ultimately, of God. We get caught up in practicing territorial ownership of identities, knowledge, land, money, opinions, and we prematurely dismiss ourselves from the infancy that is inherent to humanity existing before God. If God is known to us as teacher, parent, or creator, we are by default the student, child, and the creation; we are curious, unknowing explorers in a world we do not know and do not own.
My prayer is that we might accept the humble status of our reality, that we would observe those around us, the places we live, and the God we follow with bewilderment and a desire to learn. I pray that we could invest ourselves in discovery of who we are and who God is instead of learning to feign learnedness in hopes that we won’t be exposed for the vulnerable people we are. Bewilderment, curiosity, even cluelessness, and vulnerable hope have so much more to offer us than certainty.
In a practical sense, this posture might show itself in the little things, as follow:
I can’t assume I know someone’s story before I’ve heard it, because I can’t read minds or hearts.
I don’t need to prove that I am right for the sake of proving my brother wrong, because we’re both always a little bit wrong and unknowing.
I choose to own my strengths and weaknesses alike, because vulnerability doesn’t make me squirm; I already know that I am imperfect and fragile.
I don’t waste my time trying to earn God’s favor and prove my salvation (or disprove others’ salvation), because I’m more interested in knowing who God is and learning to love humanity as a result (i.e. I figured out that it’s not about me).
When people talk, I want to listen, because I think they might have something to teach me.
The place I live, the people I am surrounded by, and the God I follow inspire me to listen more, to notice them and to appreciate their startling and beautiful existence.
I dream about how society might view the church if we thoroughly embodied these expressions of humility more than we defended opinions or imposed Christian ideals on those around us. May we be drawn into and transformed by the humility that Jesus embodied better than any human ever has.