Beyond our best guess: Living with ambiguity and adaptability

By The Rev. Jeremy Myers

In the two weeks since our daughter, Mikayla, headed to college, we have communicated with her daily through both text and FaceTime.

It is the first time in years that I’ve been thankful for cellular devices. Thus far, our girl has been diligent and disciplined in her approach to her classes and her coursework. Big thanks to Mr. Perry and many other SHS teachers who made it a point to push students in preparation for the next level.

As we were texting the other day, we had an interesting interaction that has continued to roll around in my head. Here’s how it went… (Note: Yes, my wife, Robyn Myers, is in my phone as Baby Mama and her ringtone is “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas. I apologize for nothing.)

Baby Mama: You are killing this college thing

Mickey Moo: I’m trying. I feel like I don’t know what’s going on half the time.

Baby Mama: Just keep your ears open. You will get the hang of it.

Dad: I still don’t know what’s going on half of the time. Here’s the secret, everyone is just guessing most of the time. Education just helps you get better at guessing correctly.

Mickey Moo: Good to know. I’m going to live life in a state of perpetual confusion.

Dad: Not quite. You get more comfortable with ambiguity, though.

Mickey Moo: Cool.

Initially, my response about “just guessing” was meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The more I think about it, though, the more true it feels to me.

If all of my years of experience and education have taught me anything, it’s that the more we learn, the more it reveals to us how little we know. The smartest and wisest men and women I have ever known have all been incredibly humble and more than familiar with the phrase “I don’t know.”

Don’t get me wrong. When those same people are discussing their areas of expertise and understanding, they are more than competent and confident in sharing what they do know, but they always leave room for further discovery, further understanding and the very real possibility that in some ways, they may have gotten it wrong.

In an age that is literally defined by the access to all of the information, it is tempting to believe we can know all of the things with absolute and unfailing certainty. Consider, for instance, the abundance of “experts,” armchair and otherwise, who are throwing around facts and figures, studies and research concerning our current battle with COVID-19.

For the first time in this age of information, we are seeing the information as it is discovered rather than after it has been pruned and processed for the general public. The struggle that so many of us are dealing with actually transcends the virus. What many of us are struggling with most is the uncertainty and the constant change that continues to confront us. We are accustomed to having the answers and a clear plan of action.

For the moment, both are incredibly fluid and in-process. We are on information overload and in many ways lacking the ability and understanding necessary to parse through and make sense of it all.

Learning, much like life in general, is often messy. It requires a great deal of patience and humility. While we may not actually be comfortable with ambiguity, we do need to learn to live in it from time to time. Further, we need to develop a spirit of adaptability that will allow us to integrate new information as it becomes available.

COVID to the side, the failure to learn to integrate these two qualities has led many a company and church to close their doors as they became less able to deal with the demands of a changing world.

Throughout the Bible, there is a connection between humility and wisdom. In Proverbs 11:2, it reads, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but humility comes with wisdom.” And in James 3:13, it reads, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”

It takes humility to admit we don’t always know. But when we admit we don’t know, it creates the opportunity to learn. As we learn, we’re able to adapt and adjust our patterns of living in appropriate ways so we live good lives, lives of wisdom and grace.

I stand by my comment to my girl this week. I have regular conversations with leaders and experts in various contexts and communities across the country, and a good portion of the time, we’re all just making our best educated guess based upon the information available to us.

Our understanding is only able to improve in as much as we are willing to walk into the discomfort of the ambiguity with a willingness to adapt and adjust as necessary. We won’t learn if we aren’t willing to listen to those who are better informed and more capable of processing and applying the information.

May God grant us the grace to face uncertain times and the humility to learn and listen, that we might grow in wisdom and experience as we press on into the future.