Learning How to Embrace Being Wrong

I’ve adopted a new morning prayer. I wholeheartedly recommend it, despite the fact that (warning) it’s terribly effective at sabotaging my ego throughout the day.

It goes like this:

Dear God, please prove me wrong about something today. 

I’m oh-so-tempted to leave out all the addendums that make that statement considerably less pious, like: “…but prove me right about something shortly after so I can feel better about myself; I’m delicate” or my personal favorite: “please also prove person A or Y wrong while you’re at it.”

Even if my thought life isn’t ever always sparkling pure while I’m praying this, I maintain that the sentiment itself is. I first started consciously asking this of God when I realized three things:

  1. I desperately want to be proven wrong about people, especially my belief that they can’t or won’t change.
  2. I want to be proven wrong about God, especially my gnawing fear that God can’t (or won’t) conjure beauty out of the mess human beings have made of things.
  3. I want to be proven wrong about myself.

And I’ve also noticed that nothing good has ever come from our collective obsession with being right.

I dislike the soapbox, but I’ll sit on it for a moment. The last time a U.S. presidential election came around, I wrote about the dangers of infrahumanization (our subconscious impulse to group people into subhuman categories). This time, I’ve been thinking hard about the strangely singular through-line behind all of those volatile political posts marching their way through Facebook and Twitter right now. There’s a strong desire to win arguments, to be on the side of the righteous. I see little desire to understand others.

I see this imbalance in myself far too often, and I’m working to change it.

A certain pattern in my life has become clear: Positive change almost exclusively comes after I’ve let go of an assumption or beliefwhen I’ve allowed myself to accept that I might have been mistaken, or even just misguided, about something I previously held to be unassailably true.

For what can be shaken will be shaken till only the unshakable remains.*

Trust is the operative mechanism here. I trust that truth is not just bigger than my feeble mind; it’s also stronger. If I test it, if I allow it to be shaken, what remains after the dust settles is what matters. My words about God can too easily become a box instead of a signpost. Every now and then, those ideas need to splinter if I’m to have any hope of recognizing God at work in the world around me.

A god who remains immobile within the focus of my own vision is hardly even a trace of the True God’s passing.

No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton

I’m not in any way pretending this is easy, or that I’ve somehow cracked the code on how to succeed at holding my biases with open hands. But I think I’m finally learning how to let go of my need be absolutely certain about absolutely everything on a daily basis. If you’ll notice, Jesus wasn’t overly concerned with people being right about God. He was, however, deeply concerned with how we treated each other. In fact, in more than one case, He made that the precedent for whether or not God knew us. (See Matthew 25.) For Jesus, politics and theology never took precedent over this question: Are you capable of seeing Me in other people? 

Certainty is an idol that often prevents us from seeing peopleand Godas they really are. It’s the way of the Pharisee.

This bears out in other areas of life as well. The greatest scientific discoveries are never made without an existing theory being proven wrong, or at the very least flawed or short-sighted. Scientists cannot marry their models of the world; they must always be ready and willing for a newer, deeper understanding to break them open again.

Fr. Richard Rohr calls this non-dual thinking. In his words:

Non-dual thinking is our ability to read reality in a way that is not judgmental, in a way that is not exclusionary of the part that we don’t understand. When you don’t split everything up according to what you like and what you don’t like, you leave the moment open, you let it be what it is in itself, and you let it speak to you.

I’m coming to realize that if I want to leave room in myself for greater knowledge, greater understanding, greater wisdom, I must detach my identity from the dock of Total Knowing. I must confess my very human obsession with hoarding and perfecting answers, and pray instead that God never stops broadening my vision.

Mystery is the only mode of being that allows me to grow. It’s the only one wide enough to encompass all I see and feel every time my breathing alignseven for a momentwith the heartbeat of the Holy Spirit.

I’ve yet to find a better summary of this confounding principle than the following, from Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai:

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.

That’s all this stumbling prayer isan attempt to dig up the world and myself, to keep turning the soil so the part of me that needs to grow never hardens.

So God always has room to plant something new.

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