The trouble with right answers is how easily we can forget this one important fact: Knowing a great deal about something is not the same thing as knowing it all.
“We sing of our great knowledge of the heavens when we are in fact a frog at the bottom of a well seeing only a circle of sky above us.” ~ Tobias Wolff
This quote has been following me around for a few weeks and I think I know why. I love having answers. Whether it’s to the questions my kids ask. What I need to know to pass the test at the DMV. Or about what makes a great cup of coffee. Having answers feels good. And knowing I have the right answers feels great.
If I don’t know the right answer to a question, or have all of the information I need to make a decision, I throw myself into learning everything I can and then confidently share my newfound knowledge with anyone who seems interested.
The well-dwelling frog and I begin to look like sisters when I mistake my limited knowledge of the truth with being right.
I was reminded recently that knowing some of the truth doesn’t always lead to one right answer.
My son Andy and I share responsibility for walking our dogs late at night before we all go to bed. Mostly we take turns when it’s time to decide who will leave the warm comfort of the sofa and venture out into the darkness. But if one of us thinks to put on her pajamas before the walking hour arrives, then Andy takes the pups for their nightly stroll.
On a night when pajama time didn’t happen fast enough, I found myself walking in my neighborhood well after dark. It’s a place I know by by heart. I’ve walked past the same houses on the same street for the past 20 years. But this night, something was different. I was met by the sweet scent of night blooming jasmine. Not an earth shattering difference. But just enough of something new that it made me smile. I love knowing that this familiar place I call home can still surprise me. I also felt rather proud of myself that I had been “present” enough to notice this detail. And when I got home I shared my little moment of bliss with Andy.
A different perspective.
After listening patiently to my story of “something smelling good outside,” Andy said, “Oh! That reminds me. The other night on our walk a coyote came out of the bushes and walked right up to us!” What?! Andy said he shouted at it and waved his arms, but it didn’t budge as it locked eyes with our small dog. Luckily a neighbor appeared waving what looked like a cane but surprisingly was shooting sparks and an electrical jolt out the end. The coyote turned and ran. Andy thanked our neighbor and asked about the cane. The neighbor shared that he had encountered coyotes so many times on his nightly walks that he had invested in this tool (weapon?) to protect himself and his dogs.
Whoa. Two very different stories about the same walk. Both true experiences. Happening in the same place at the same time of night. And ending in what seems to be a contradiction: my neighborhood can be serenely peaceful and somewhat dangerous (especially for small dogs.) Both things are true. Both descriptions are right answers to the question, “What is your neighborhood like after dark?”
And isn’t this where the thrill of living comes from? (No, not from encountering wild animals!) From knowing that our loving Creator delights in surprising and protecting us. With answers beyond what we already know or can imagine.
That if we pay attention, and keep our eyes and our hearts open to the wonder of what God might be showing us, He will expand our understanding of who He is and how He loves us. He will increase our capacity to understand and love others, no matter how different their experiences may be from our own. No matter what their “circle of sky” looks like from the bottom of their well compared to mine.
We are loved by a Creator who delights in surprising and protecting us. With answers beyond what we already know or can imagine.
So let’s keep looking up. Remembering that what each of us sees is just a glimpse of the expansive heavens above us. See the beauty there. Speak humbly of its truth. And listen carefully to those around us who are trying to do the same.
When God gives us answers let us remember that knowing something is not the same thing as knowing it all. And when we share what we’re learning with humility, respect, and compassion for one another, we just might find ourselves climbing up out of our wells and walking under God’s great expanse of sky together.