Who Did You Grow Up to Be?

“Ideals are like stars;

you will not succeed in touching them with your hands.

But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters,

you choose them as your guides,

and following them you will reach your destiny.”

  – Carl Schurz

This has been a difficult week. After declining life support, my mother died. She was a giving, loving person, a mom not only to me and my three sisters but also to many people outside our family who needed mothering. All this week, my sisters and I spoke with people who dropped by or phoned or came to the visitation and funeral. Some of them I had not seen since I was a teen and would not have recognized. When I figured out who they were, I wondered, though I didn’t ask, “Who did you grow up to be? What did you grow up to believe?”

We choose our ideals, our life guides, our beliefs, our star-maps. And from time to time, we tweak them. Ultimately, what we believe is what we choose to believe.

I’m happy, because I choose to be.

I forgive, because I choose to let go.

I take each day as it comes, because I choose to.

I’m content with imperfection, because I choose to be.

I wish myself and others the best, because I choose to.

I believe what I believe, because I choose to believe it.

Faith lives and breathes and grows if we let it, because faith is alive. Faith is our attitude toward what we value most in life. If I want an honest faith, a faith of integrity – and I do – I need to examine my beliefs, keep what’s truly mine, and leave behind what is not. Having a faith of integrity requires taking responsibility for what I believe. I believe what I believe, because I choose to believe it.

Ann Patchett, in an essay called “Fact vs. Fiction,” talks about two kinds of educational experience: active and passive. In the passive experience, “your only role is to accept what you are given. To memorize facts and later repeat them for a test might get you a good grade, but it’s not the same thing as having intellectual curiosity.” In the active experience, “You realize that one answer is not enough and that you have to look at as many sources as are available to you so that you can piece together a larger picture.” An open-hearted faith, a faith of integrity and grace, wonders. It’s curious. It’s always trying to piece together a larger picture.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson laments the fact that he sees plenty of children who parrot back that they’re told rather than learning how to think. Do we allow children to question? When the answers to their questions are uncertain, are we able to honestly admit that we don’t know?

What about our own beliefs as adults? Psychologist Daniel J. Levitin points out that we often blindly accept what we’re told and “have a tendency to apply critical thinking only to things we disagree with.” Do we ever question what we’ve always agreed with? Are we truly as certain as we’d like to be? Are we able to appreciate the mystery of God? Are we content to live inside the questions?

Or are we so uncomfortable with questions that we grab on to answers that we haven’t thought through? When we hold what we think is an answer, are we so glued to it that we’re unable to crack open the question again? Why does that matter, anyway? Because it’s the questions, not the answers that broaden our horizons and urge us on like seafarers “on the desert of waters.”

So who did you grow up to be? What did you grow up to believe? What are you growing to be?

Next week: belief and our inner pilot light.

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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.