Mid-Stride Moments

Apparently, when a person is actively running, there comes a point when they're suspended in air. Neither foot is touching the ground. They're temporarily untethered to the earth in this mid-stride moment.

My incredible friend told me this fact when I went to visit her in West Virginia a couple of weeks ago. She was making a point. I imagined that she was referencing a hypothetical runner who might look like this: strong and fit, toned and capable, disciplined and determined.

However, given my current stage of life and fitness, I temporarily ruined her moment (and the valid point she was making) because I instead envisioned a runner like this: someone who tries hard, but drags their feet and probably trips a fair amount.

While I was mentally pondering the mechanics of a human stride, wondering if all people experience both feet momentarily lifted off the ground while running, or if some people awkwardly shuffle without achieving actual liftoff, my friend continued. 

She was in the process of moving across country. (That's why we had gathered one last time for a rapid-fire visit that spanned from 1 PM to 1 AM one Saturday where we talked and laughed incessantly, prayed together, ate takeout, went shopping, and took a hike where she sprained her ankle in the West Virgina wilderness. I digress, but we covered a lot in 12 hours.)

Back to the cross-country move. As she sat on her couch, ice bag on her swelling ankle, she told me that she felt like that suspended runner. Neither of her feet felt grounded in place. Metaphorically, she was mid-stride, hovering in the air, wrapping up one era in one location, headed 800 miles away to another place, no longer fully in one place and not yet fully in the other. She was just waiting, just hovering.

How exhilarating! Also, how terrifying. She and her husband had built a life, a great life. Successful careers, great friends, an amazing church family, neighbors, connections. They knew all the back routes while driving. They had a favorite grocery store and hiking routes and paths to walk. So familiar! So many great memories!

Yet that foot of the familiar was lifted from the ground, and the next foot was about to land in a new location. There would be a new career with new challenges, new colleagues, new neighbors, new friends, and a new house. Everything ahead was still unknown. They'd need to discover all new routines, routes, and rhythms.

In that moment, even as she sat on the couch with her leg propped out in front of her, I knew what she was saying was true: my friend was mid-stride. Was it going to be a perfect run? Probably not. After all, when you come to think of it, most running feels messy and hard, even if you're doing it really well.  

This week, she officially moved, all of her earthly possessions in tow. I write this now with tears stinging my eyes. My friend is even farther away, far enough that I no longer can drive there and back for a weekend visit. But mostly, my tears come because her foot has finally landed. She's running a new path, blazing a new trail.

I am deeply, profoundly proud of her. This new journey might be messy and hard, but I have no doubt she's going to do it really well.

The Gift of Not Knowing It All

Several years ago, the university where I teach selected Dave Eggers' novel The Circle as its common text, meaning that I had to incorporate it into my Rhetoric and Civic Life curriculum. I didn't like the book. Neither did the public at large, apparently, with its film adaptation garnering a weak 16/100 rating from Rotten Tomatoes.

To be fair, you're not supposed to "like" The Circle. Its plot isn't characterized by warmth, enjoyable characters, or redemption. One student said, without a trace of exaggeration, "This is the scariest book I've ever read."

The novel wasn't in the horror genre; it was dystopian. Yet, I understood my student's comment. The Circle was terrifying. In an effort to excel at her new job at a tech company called The Circle, the main character, a recent college grad named Mae, agrees to pilot their emerging technology: a 24/7 body camera that captures and broadcasts every aspect of her life. On the surface, this premise might sound more intrusive than downright terrifying, of course. But I still remember the evening when, stretched out on my couch reading a particularly harrowing chapter, I roughly tossed the book onto the floor because I needed to take a break. My stress level had ratcheted.

Despite The Circle's promise that the complete transparency of their social networks would create a more honest society (and even a flourishing democracy), Mae's life — and the lives of those around her — were destroyed. With every lived moment, millions of followers zinged Mae with messages, commenting on her every conversation, action, and decision. As an employee eager to please The Circle, Mae fully bought into the company's ideologies, yet she shattered privacy, blurred every possible work-life boundary, and ruined real relationships.

But amplify this further and imagine the premise scaled not only to one person (Mae), but to the entire world. The Circle wanted every single person's life to be continually shared, known, consumed, connected, and broadcast.

Even typing this, my cortisol spikes. I want to go sit by a lake, off the grid.

In certain ways, we already experience forms of this. There's infinite content to consume, millions of sound bites to swallow, and abundant ways to share. You have something to say? Our culture would encourage, by all means, blast it. Say it all, read it all, follow it all, absorb it all, respond to it all, know it all.

But this is impossible. No human perfectly can manage every one of their own thoughts and interactions, much less to perfectly manage the continual reactions of every other human to their thoughts and interactions, or to perfectly manage hearing and knowing everyone else's every single thought and interaction.

That much knowledge vastly exceeds our finite human capacity. We can't follow, absorb, respond to, or know it all. It's dizzying.

I haven't thought about The Circle for years, so why did I remember it now? It's because I recently heard a message about God's omniscience. He knows all — all things macro, all things micro, all things past, all things present, all things future. He knows every thought we have and every word on our tongue before we speak it. He knows when we sit and when we stand, our comings and our goings. He hems us in, behind and before. He knows this about us. He knows this about everyone.

He knows all. It's well within his capacity.

In response to this omniscience, David writes in the Psalms, "Such knowledge is too lofty for me, too wonderful for me to attain."

This is a beautiful acknowledgement. It reinforces how our thoughts are not like God's thoughts and our ways are not like His ways. We can't know all.

In fact, I often can't understand myself perfectly. I struggle managing relatively small-scale things, like accurately keeping on top of group text threads with my friends. I'm utterly non-omniscient. In moments when I feel like I have to know it all, respond to it all, share it all, consume it all, I'm crushed by the claustrophobic cognitive and emotional weight.

Sometimes limitations are gifts. Not knowing everything is a gift.

God didn't create us to know everything. Some might be angry that God adamantly withholds this ability from us, as if he's like Jack Nicholas in A Few Good Men declaring, "You can't handle the truth!" But I see the limitation as merciful, like a kind father not forcing a child to carry a suitcase that's impossible for the child to lift, saying, "That's too heavy for you. That's my bag to carry, not yours. Set that burden down. It's mine to lift."

Whether or not Eggers would appreciate this spiritual interpretation is debatable, of course. Still, one of the many reasons The Circle arouses such stress in readers is because it captures not only how impossible, but also how devastating, it is for humans to attempt omniscience.

Granted, like many people, I'm hardwired to figure things out, reason through arguments, mull over conversations, interpret nuances, and make sense of it all. I like knowing and understanding.

But as a follower of Jesus, this isn't always what's required of us. Thank God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

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