She’s not answering her phone! It’s going straight to voicemail. What if she’s hurt? What if her date is a bad guy? How could I have been so naïve as to think it was okay for her to date at 16? I never thought that was too young, but now, I don’t know.
Not knowing is killing me! I’m her father, isn’t it my job to protect her? If she’s hurt I’ll never forgive myself.
She’s fifteen minutes past her curfew now! Where is she? This is unbearable!
My phone is buzzing! Unknown number! This is it. Something happened! Somebody is calling to tell me that something bad has happened to my daughter!
“Dad it’s me. Jason and I are stuck on the freeway. There was an accident and they’ve shut down the road. We’re stuck between exits, so we’re not going anywhere for a while. I’m sorry.”
“Why didn’t you call sooner?”
“My phone died and Jason’s broke last week. There’s a lady stopped in the lane next to us. Everyone is out of their cars standing on the freeway. She let me borrow her phone when I said that I needed to call you. I’m so sorry.”
“No, it’s fine. I’m just glad you’re okay.”
Life is so much better when we don’t break down in the face of mystery. Unfortunately, few learn how to take on the unknown with confidence. For many, mystery triggers dread, frustration, and repetitive thoughts of the worst-case scenario. Others go into denial, refusing to believe anything they cannot understand. In a world as complex as ours, mystery abounds. Making peace with the unknown, therefore, is an important step on the path to a productive and fulfilling life.
To the anxious person, the mysterious and the catastrophic are indistinguishable. When the unknown feeds anxiety, the body enters into a fight or flight response: the muscles tense, the body trembles, breathing accelerates, and the mind becomes overwhelmed by a state of panic. When forced to take on the unknown, the anxious are overcome by their concerns, they become restless, and their greatest fears appear to be inescapable.
We can learn how to calm our fears in moments of uncertainty. When we are honest about our fears and express them for safe amounts of time, in safe places, with a safe people, we make peace with the unknown and keep it from turning our unease into anxiety.
When we relinquish our need to be in control, when we no longer have to have all of the answers, a mystery can become exciting. The unknown sparks our curiosity. We find that we are no longer slaves to anxiety and surrounded by the terrible. We instead realize that we are residents of a wonderful and mind-boggling universe with countless questions to answer, intriguing journeys to take, and beguiling riddles to solve.
Mystery and Knowledge
The greatest thinkers know that there is nothing more thrilling than engaging in a mystery. They do not fear unanswered questions and take them on without the promise of finding the answers. Theologians study ancient texts and people whose origins and histories are often clouded by time. In their journey to understand the nature of God, they learn from the mistakes and wisdom of their ancestors, keeping alive the voices of the dead. Philosophers use logic and reason in their quest to uncover the nature of everything. Their thoughts have led to revolution and enlightenment and continue to push the limits of human understanding. Scientists observe and experiment in a natural world that is incomprehensibly vast and staggeringly complex. Their discoveries are astounding, their inventions are remarkable, and the universe they unveil is more extraordinary than we could ever have imagined.
In spite of the best efforts of great thinkers everywhere, in all likelihood the human race will cease to exist long before all mysteries are solved. Rather than being discouraged by this, we should be grateful.
A life without mystery is a boring life indeed. Without mystery there would be no excitement on a first date, no thrill in the pages of new book, and no journey worth taking. We are never more courageous than when we step into the unknown with confidence, reminding ourselves that a good mystery stretches the mind and rouses the soul.