Do not now seek answers that cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.
LIVE THE QUESTIONS NOW.
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
As Becky said about me, I am an ideas person, a “thinker”, if you will. There is nothing I love more than analyzing, debating, mulling and discussing issues and ideas with people (albeit with a cocktail or few in my hands – I am a Jesuit-educated southerner, after all). To me, there is nothing better than discussing a political, theological, economic – heck, any issue. I love ideas. Ideas, to me, are clean, objective, easy to get my mind around. They aren’t moody or emotional. I love the challenge of figuring something out. I love it so much I basically get paid to think about other people’s legal problems and figure out ways to solve them.
I get in trouble, however, when I apply this approach to life, relationships and choices (please ignore my wife in the background shaking her head in vigorous agreement). So often I take the approach that life is a puzzle to be analyzed and figured out. And by” life”, I mean the countless decisions we must make each and every day ranging from the minutiae of what to eat or wear to what profession to work in or person to marry or whether to marry at all. Life, I have learned the hard way, is decisively NOT an “idea” to be analyzed, dissected, debated and ultimately answered, preferably in 500 words or less with footnoted sources. Discernment is a challenge for me because, as Ignatius tells us, it is a process that involves the whole person, not just the head. Yet I find myself so often getting stuck on the head level, endlessly going back and forth between pros and cons and variations of the same. I literally live “paralysis by analysis”.
Young adulthood is defined, above all, by a series of questions that defines my life. Where will I live? What sort of work will I do? Will I marry? Who will I marry? When will we have kids? What values will define my life? These questions are not simply ideas to be analyzed, but mysteries to be lived. To me, young adulthood, life itself, is a journey in which I confront mysteries that ask me to surrender the seeming endless freedom and absolute openness of adolescence in exchange for the realities of life. These countless decisions, big and small, define who I am. Thus the quote above.
My favorite theologian, the Jesuit Karl Rahner, describes “God”, in essence, as the incomprehensible mystery or the infinite horizon we encounter in the minutiae of everyday life. To me, that means the unanswered questions that haunt me day after day. This description has always captured my imagination because, in its essence, it makes the stuff of life the reality of God – a reality that must be lived to be encountered rather than objectively analyzed. Rahner rejected the notion that God’s existence could be proven by a series of logical syllogisms. Rather, in the everyday decisions and choices of life I encounter both God and my truest self – which is the essence of discernment. The Rilke quote above expresses this idea (forgive me) in a beautifully poetic way.
The Rilke quote reminds me each time I read it that the constant discernment that is young adulthood cannot be reduced to a simple matter of mind over matter. As I struggle each and every day to respond to the questions my deepest self confronts – am I doing the work of God? Am I the best husband I can be? Am I ready for kids? – I am comforted in knowing that my mind alone won’t solve the puzzle because it can’t solve the puzzle, but that life itself, and the reality of “God in all things”, will lead me to the answers that will produce in me the abundant life Jesus promises to those who say “Yes” to God. It reminds me that God’s will is not some idea or puzzle to be figured out, but a reality that must be encountered through the gritty minutiae of life and the ties that bind. The “answer”, ultimately, is not in my head, but rather in the surrender of my will to the incomprehensible mystery of God’s unconditional love, a love that draws forth from me a free response of my own life.
What are the deep questions that remain unanswered in my own life? Am I “paralyzed by analysis”? What might God be asking me to surrender in order to find new life?
*I want to thank Becky for the invitation to write in this space, and the confidence in me she expressed in so doing. I am flattered by the book suggestion, but unfortunately given the current news about both politicians and priests, a book about politics and theology would probably be received about as well as Nick Saban at a cochon de lait in Baton Rouge. Actually, Saban would probably fare better.
— Josh Decuir