Not knowing. It’s a painful place to be, especially as we age. Not knowing whether to retire. To move. The cause of an illness. Whether we will have enough money to survive. What to do with the rest of the days we are given.
The space of “not knowing” is uncomfortable. We want certainty, ground under our feet, a neon sign pointing the way, a burning bush.
So what do we do? Here is a story.
A friend of mine in her late 70s worked with the poor and hungry in South America for years until she became ill. She loved her work. But suddenly she started to feel dizzy, tired and not well. She came back to the States where doctors could not find the cause of her illness. Perhaps she had contracted some type of virus or bacteria while working with the indigent and sick.
When I asked her how she was coping with all this, she looked at me with characteristic gentleness and said, “This time is a gift.”
I asked her how this could be. After all, the rug had been pulled out from under her feet. Mission work had been her life and her passion. How could she call this loss a gift?
“Don’t misunderstand,” she said. “Of course, this is hard, not knowing what is causing this. But my time with this illness is teaching me more about myself, about patience and being more loving. It is helping me to be compassionate and I am learning to let go and to trust.”
I was humbled. And I also understood the core of the lesson in “not knowing.” It was about trust. We had to trust that somehow the “not knowing” eventually would yield what we had to know. And we had to trust in the process of “doing nothing” for in truth sometimes there was nothing we could do.
It was about trusting our Higher Power, the Divine and our inner resources to always guide us to the place we most needed to be and to what we most needed to know – if we accepted and trusted.
If I am honest, I still struggle with uncertainty. But the times I can gently invite the “not knowing” to show me its gifts in moments of stillness, a peace settles on my spirit. By removing the rigidity and blinders, I can then see an infinite range of possibilities. And then I can be curious about them and accept them simply as they are.
I am reminded of Joseph Campbell who said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” For many of us, this will be painful. But that pain can open up our souls, as it did my missionary friend’s, to deeper compassion. To deeper trust and love.
The “not knowing” then becomes a gift. We can relax, knowing as God told English mystic Julian of Norwich that “All shall be well and all shall be well.” And it is.