The Spirituality of Not Knowing

Dec 4 / Jessica Shields

Listen to the audio version here:

I was a teenager in the 1990s. During that time, my friends and I might have a conversation that went something like this:

“Hey, who was that one guy who starred in that movie? What was his name?’” … “I don’t know. I can’t remember.”

That would be the end of the conversation, and we would move on to something else. The point of this dialogue, reminiscent of a time before smartphones, is that we did not need to have the answer to every question. There was a time before Google and smartphones when we let questions go unanswered, and we were okay with it.

I confess that I will quickly reach for my phone to look something up on Google. It could be a significant question that needs a significant answer, but usually, it is a random thought that makes me wonder. Instead of sitting with my curiosity and wonder, I quickly search for facts. And I know that I am not alone in this. I sit in many meetings and group gatherings where questions never go unanswered because someone will inevitably pull out their phone and say, “Oh wait! Let me Google it.”

I am not one to dwell on the past, but there are moments when I long for a simpler and less complicated time, before smartphones and Google answers. There are moments when I long for a time when my brain was not constantly saturated with unnecessary facts and information. I have been thinking about our digital age of instant and constant information and wondering what it has done to our spiritual lives. Lately, I have been reflecting on the spirituality of not knowing, and not needing to know.

The Bible is full of examples of not knowing, and plenty of instances of people’s faith being okay with not knowing. Paul assured the church in Corinth that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7). Jesus told the disciples “So, do not worry saying, ‘what shall we eat?’ or ‘what shall we drink?’ or ‘what shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31). And in Proverbs we hear, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek God’s will in all you do, and God will show you which path to take,” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

In all these references, we are assured that it is okay not to have the answers. It is okay not to have all the information we think we need. In the moments of unknowing, our faith is strengthened because these are moments when we trust God to guide us instead of Google. The moments of unknowing are the moments when, instead of turning to the internet, we can turn within and search the database of our own hearts. After all, God told the prophet Jeremiah that our heart is where God’s knowing is written. God’s instruction has been placed deep within us. (Jeremiah 31:33)

In the coming months, be encouraged to practice the spirituality of not knowing. I will practice it with you. In the moments when I am wondering or curious about something, I will challenge myself to refrain from reaching for my smartphone to look up facts.

Instead, I will sit with the wonder and curiosity. I will look within myself. I will listen for God’s voice and pay attention to God’s movements. And I will trust that if there is something I really need to know, God will lead me to the answer. And if not, I will trust God in the unknowing.

I am appreciating the 1990s more and more, the decade of my formative teenage years. It’s too bad my children won’t experience those days. I think I am going to introduce 90s days in our home, days without screens and smart gadgets and rapid, fingertip information. I imagine we will all be more spiritual people because of it.
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Jessica Shields
Jessica Shields is a certified spiritual director and an ordained pastor in the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), serving a congregation in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. She completed a faith formation program for spiritual deepening and contemplative practices with the Shalem Institute in 2014. Jessica completed her Spiritual Direction Training Program with the Companioning Center in 2023. She has a heart for contemplative spirituality and strives to integrate it into the life of the Church while also offering spiritual direction whenever the invitation presents itself. Jessica and her husband, along with two daughters and a dog, live in Ohio.