Each weekday I read a daily devotion from the Lutheran’s Hour Ministries. Yesterday’s devotion was based on this verse from James: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15
This verse brings home a point that has been running through my mind and comforting my heart lately. I don’t know what each day will bring. I don’t know, but God does. This not knowing (the very thing that caused me anxiety and drove me to plan and attempt to control my daily life for years), is actually what makes life interesting and delightful. In hindsight, I can see that the difference between being terrified and embracing the unknowingness of life is simply trusting in God to bring about his perfect will.
A few months ago, this realization hit me: when I’m open and willing to embrace that I don’t know what that day holds, I experience a lot more peace. Instead of expending my mental energy on planning or pretending that I somehow control my world, my mind is quiet and receptive to the lessons and experiences God puts in my path. This allows me to be present, responsive, and engaging with the people around me. In my still slightly A-type way, I added an item to my task list at work to remind me of this state of mind. It simply says: “Openness and curiosity – What does God want me to learn today?”
Looking back on challenging situations in my life, I can see that those experiences taught me lessons that prepared me for the future. What seemed like purposeless frustration and pain was actually a process of growth and loving guidance from God. In this light, I can embrace whatever the future holds, knowing that I’m being refined and molded for a purpose.
Being open and curious is particularly delightful while raising kids! Sienna and Mateo are at a really fun and engaging age. They have all sorts of ideas on things to do, questions about life, and interesting games to play. Letting their ideas shape our activities or getting lost in their stories opens up a whole world of possibilities and opportunities for “teachable moments” that I could never come up with on my own.
When I maintain a disposition of openness and curiosity, I eagerly read books and watch films that I would have otherwise avoided for fear of the emotions they’d invoke. You know those books and films that haunt you for days afterwards? When I tried to maintain my “happiness” through staying emotionally controlled, I’d refuse to watch certain films or shy away from books that looked “intense” or “heavy.” Now, I say, “Bring ’em on!” I look at each book as a way to grow. The stories, ideas, and emotions that we experience increase our knowledge of the world and ability to connect with other people. Sure, you may cry and experience sadness, melancholy, or be disturbed for awhile. But, those feelings pass and there may be an important lesson in those feelings.
This pairing of “openness and curiosity” was sparked by The Happiness Trap. In it, Dr. Harris talks about exploring your feelings with curiosity, like a scientist studying a phenomenon. He advises stepping back from yourself and seeing your emotions as something that’s happening in the moment. This distinction between being “in your mind” and being aware of what’s going on in your body and mind is significant. It’s in tapping into our awareness that we’re able to be open, connect with others, and grow. Likewise, Dr. Harris defines the somewhat confusing term of mindfulness: “…means consciously bringing awareness to your here-and-now experience, with openness, receptiveness, and interest.” With this perspective, everyday life becomes much more interesting! Every experience, human interaction, or situation is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Curiosity is an appealing trait – it invokes childlike wonder. It makes me feel like I’m reconnecting with my younger self. My parents tell me that, as a toddler, I incessantly asked, “What’s that?!” The way my dad imitates it is especially endearing. When life feels challenging or I’m experiencing growing pains, I find great comfort in reminding myself that, in relation to God, I’m still a child with a lot to learn.