The Power of “And”
For the last several centuries of human history, we have collectively believed that knowledge is power. If we just know more, it will solve our problems. A popular, award-winning public service commercial underscores this belief with the tagline, “The More You Know.” Is the idea even true? Is it true practically? Is it true philosophically?
The modern results of having more knowledge would seem to say that it is not true. We have more knowledge today than at any point in human history and wars still rage in horrific ways. The epidemic of people hurting others is just that, epidemic. More knowledge has not helped us learn how to love more fully. It has not given us peace or joy or anything else that makes life worth living.
Even well-meaning churches have embraced the idea by suggesting that knowing more of the Bible (i.e., getting more knowledge) is central to spiritual maturity. To be sure, knowledge is a necessary thing, a good thing, but it can only take us so far. And, it can give us the illusion of being in control.
The ancient Hebrew text of Proverbs suggests a different kind of knowledge … a genuine “knowing” that is best described as wisdom. Wisdom is an experiential knowing that enters mystery and infinite realities with a humility that does not have things all figured out. Intellectual knowledge says, “I know what is going on … I can accurately assess the situation in front of me.” We label things and describe things, but then we are left without wisdom.
Intellectual knowledge, data, tends to work according to the principle of either/or. Something is either “this” or “that.” It is either good or bad. It is either right or wrong. It is either black or white. This kind of thinking is very helpful when it comes to fixing an engine on an airplane. It is necessary when it comes to mathematics. It is vital to understanding morality and logic. However, as Jacques Ellul said, “Christianity is not moral, it is spiritual.” His assertion is related to this distinction between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom is relational. It happens when our “spirit” is walking in unity with the Holy Spirit of God. Knowledge can give us categories but not relationship.
And so, when it comes to the matters of the soul and love and relationships, something more is needed. A deeper knowing, a wisdom, is vital because it allows us to live in the midst of the paradoxes and mysteries of life. Wisdom, a true knowing, allows us to live according to the principle of both/and. Most things in life are not either/or, they are both/and.
Knowledge puts a “period” at the end of our evaluations and judgements. Wisdom inserts an “and” that leaves things open-ended … open to God’s perspective. Knowledge says that there are right and wrong answers to absolutely everything whereas wisdom says that we need to listen and be open to God’s leading, direction, and perspective. Simple things can be answered by knowledge, but that which is most significant demands wisdom.
Several months ago, a friend challenged me to quit using the word “but.” His reasoning was simple and profound. The idea is that when we use the word “but”, we are not accepting reality and life as it is. The use of the word “but” serves to protect us from holding what may be harsh realities with an open heart. When we protect ourselves this way, we are closing ourselves off to God and how He is involved. In the same way, the use of a period can say, “this is what it is” and nothing more.
The use of the word “and” opens possibilities and the potential of wisdom as a genuine kind of knowing. Psalm 62 says, “for God alone my soul waits in silence.” The use of the word “and” opens us up to God as we wait for Him to finish the sentence.
So, we might say, “I am so angry at my spouse, and I don’t know how to respond in love.” Or, perhaps, “I’m so angry at my spouse and I love her/him deeply.” Or, “I’m so angry at my spouse and I desire to forgive.” Using the word “and” opens possibilities bigger than the present moment. This suggests it is only as we stay in the present moment with the word “and” that we develop wisdom that will take us peacefully into the future. For some this might appear to discount the anger and lead to a fear of not working through issues regarding anger. Both realities can be true “I am angry at my spouse and I love her/him.” The anger remains present, undiscounted and in need of resolution. So, resolution is possible because the anger is mine. The anger in this instance is mine not my spouses. I can change my response. The word “and” helps make that distinction very clear.
For me, this has been one of the most difficult challenges I’ve ever taken and I’m still working through it months later. Why has it been so difficult? Partly and perhaps mostly, it is habit. And, it is a habit solidly ingrained because the used of “but” or the insertion of a period helps me shape reality in my favor and gives me a sense of control.
Wisdom emerges when we jettison the use of periods and “buts” in favor of the word “and”. The phrase, “it is what it is,” has become a very popular away of addressing hard things. In one sense, this is putting a period at the end of the sentence. It is often a very simple way of discounting reality and my response to it. I am beginning to believe that a better way to address reality is to say: “it is hard, and …”
A few examples of how this might work:
I just lost my job, and the Lord is my shepherd.
I am struggling with that some old sin, and God is so gracious to me.
I have a handicapped child, and God is at work in my life.
I feel alone and lonely, and I know that God will meet me in this place.
Consider how the use of a period or the insertion of “but” shapes thinking in the sentences above.
Think about your day.
Bring to your awareness the circumstances and situations you are encountering
State the reality of your situation followed by “and.”
Sit with the Lord and ask Him to complete the sentence in your heart.
Allow the word “and” to become a way to open yourself to God and His goodness in your life. And, to be clear, this puts us in a very vulnerable state before God. And, to be vulnerable before Him is the best place to be!
Thanks to my good friend Michael Donnelly and author Richard Rohr for prompting my thoughts and reflections in this area.