When I was young, you could always count on “the gang” to solve the mystery. The monster always turned out to be some rich-white-male capitalist trying to rip off somebody. I liked Scooby-Doo, because there was a mystery, followed quickly by solutions. In the newer episodes for a new generation, the monsters turn out to be…monsters. The mystery never really gets solved. The point of the show is to experience the mystery, rather than to solve it.
But my kids love it. They prefer mystery to solutions.
Maybe I need to learn how to love mystery again. Maybe we all do. Our marriages and our world may even depend upon it…
I’m not alone in my quest for solutions.
Just last night, I sat in my living with a group of friends—our children playing outdoors in the June twilight, echoes of laughter drifting on the breeze through open windows—and we talked about the ways we try solve even the most uncertain and mysterious of human experiences. Does a particular feeling mean we made the best job decision? Does our children’s happiness confirm we moved into the right neighborhood? Does a sense of accomplishment mean I have used my time wisely?
Uncertainty everywhere. Mystery everywhere. And all of us on the endless hunt for solutions, for answers to the timeless, unanswerable questions.
While our kids played.
Why do we yearn to solve the mystery? I think we search for solutions because they bring the illusion of certainty, and certainty brings a sense of safety. And we will go to incredible lengths to feel safe. In fact, we have been encouraged to do so from the womb.
Before we were born, most of our parents were purchasing the safest, most disaster-proof crib on the market. They were installing plugs in the light sockets and putting mouth-sized things in cupboards out of reach.
And once we could speak, they plied us with questions, searching for answers. Our parents wanted us to explain our every emotion, and they wanted to know what possessed us to do this or that. Our teachers were always looking for a specific answer, because standardized tests don’t measure mystery.
And the world knows we will pay an awful lot to purchase a feeling of safety. From the moment we earned our first paycheck, businesses were selling us the solutions they create. So, we have become convinced that iPhones are the answer to our disconnectedness, or that a particular neighborhood is the answer to our children’s education and future. Or we settle on a particular theology or a particular church, so we won’t have to wonder anymore. Or we eat kale and expensive vitamins and we think we have found the answer for perfect health.
We seek solutions because they make us feel safe. For a while.
But, inevitably, something happens:
Or a diagnosis.
Or an affair.
Or maybe nothing happens, and we simply notice the gnawing sense of unease has returned—the questions are back, and we resume our desperate scramble for answers.
You see, as it turns out, solutions do not bring the peace and freedom for which we are so desperately searching.
Last week, I was in the kitchen finishing the dinner dishes, when my eight-year-old son, Aidan, walked in to the room. He was wearing a flannel bathrobe, with eyeglasses slightly askew, and he was holding a book about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Parenting fail?)
A little gray hair and a pipe, and he might have been an elderly man enjoying his retirement.
Of course, what came out of his mouth only added to the effect. He said, “Daddy, the thing I love about God is that the more you think about him, the more questions you have. And I love questions and mysteries.”
Out of the mouths of babes.
His words ruptured me—they were truth and art and revelation, and they took my breath away. But even more than the words themselves, I was struck by the sense of peace and freedom with which they were uttered.
Because having solutions does not bring peace and freedom.
Peace and freedom come when we relinquish solutions and revel in the mystery.
When we stand on the threshold of mystery, we will be afraid at first, because it feels chaotic and dangerous. But if we can stay there, if we can dip our toe into the waters of mystery, we may be transformed.
We may become like children again.
My two-year-old daughter, Caitlin, has just entered the “why stage.” She asks the question, “Why?” with impunity. And in the end, with dimples popping and a glimmer in her eye, she always answers herself in this way: “Because that’s the way it is supposed to be.”
That answer is enough for her.
She’s not asking the question in order to find the answer—she’s asking because her eyes are opening up to a vast, glorious world, and her questions are an expression of wonder in the mystery of it all. Her questions don’t require answers. They only require asking.
How might we enter into this kind of mystery and revel in it? I think we can begin by dipping our toes into the on-going, unsolvable mystery of the people to whom we’ve committed our lives. I think our marriages could be a training ground for a people learning to revel in the mystery. Because the truth is, we are all walking mysteries, even to ourselves. If we can never fully know our own depths, how can we expect to fully comprehend the depths of another? Our husbands and wives are bottomless mysteries that defy solving, and we are left no choice but to live in their mystery.
What would happen if we became like children again, reveling in the mystery of the people we are married to, rediscovering the joy of asking questions—not in order to nail down answers, but simply as a way to honor the glory in the people next to us and to acknowledge the wonder in the world around us?
I think we might be transformed into a childlike people, trading the safe harbor of feeble, temporary answers for the vulnerability and wonder of endless questions. I think we might live our relationships and our lives soaked in the freedom and peace of a child discovering. We might stare long at a spider web and wonder at its complexity. We might look at a night sky and marvel at the vastness. We might look into the rebellious eyes of our child and melt at the mysterious universe behind them. We might trade in the violence of certainty for the awe-inspiring peace of the mystery, and in doing so we may unleash freedom in our marriages, and in our families, and in our friendships, and in a world captivated by the need for certainty.
So, tonight, fall asleep next to your spouse. But in the morning, allow yourself to awake to a stranger. Awake to the mystery of another wondrous creature, and become like kids again, forsaking the safety of certain-answers and reveling in the multiplication of questions.
Tomorrow, unleash some mystery into the world, and live in the peace and freedom of it.
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