I AM Critical

This post – these words – have been swirling around in my heart for awhile now. I hope I can do them justice.

Here goes.

My oldest son loves to talk and ask questions. He will ask you a hundred and one questions about what you are doing and why you are doing it and how long it’s going to take you before quickly digressing into a hundred and one completely unrelated questions.

It can be…a lot.

But one thing I’ve noticed about him is that his questions are asked from a genuine desire to learn, to understand, to figure things out, and to communicate. He notices a lot. What he notices always inspires questions. And his questions always lead him into developing bigger ideas, deeper thoughts, and more complex understanding of the world around him.

While I can easily get overwhelmed with the amount of words that seem to always be coming from his mouth, I have to admit that I totally get why he does what he does.

He, like his momma, is a critical thinker.

Being a critical thinker is a funny thing.

I did a quick Google search and found this definition of critical thinking that really does a good job of showing the inner mechanics of my brain.

Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.

My brain is constantly thinking. Constantly analyzing. Constantly assessing and reassessing. Constantly taking apart ideas in my head and putting them back together.

I can’t just hear ideas. I hear jumping off points. I hear starting places. I like to take ideas and turn them on their heads. I like to look at things from every angle. I like to take a thought and then push it to the next point. And then the next. And then the next.

I don’t like thoughtful conclusions. I like epic thought journeys.

This is what makes me a critical thinker. And this is why, for most of my life, people have called me critical. But they didn’t mean it as a compliment.

A big part of me doesn’t want to write this post, because I’ve carried around the shame and embarrassment of other people’s assessment of me all of my life. But I need to write this post, because I’ve carried around the shame and embarrassment of other people’s assessment of me all my life…and I’m ready to lay it down.

This year I made the discovery that people can be wrong about you, and that it’s ok for people to be wrong about you. I made the discovery that you don’t have to believe everything people think about you. And I made the discovery that the hurtful things people say about you are more about what is going on in their life than what is wrong with your life.

Yes, we are all accountable for our own actions. And yes, all of our strengths can equally be wielded as weaknesses. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about showing up as myself and being told that there is something wrong with who I am. That I’m not cooperative or easy going. That I’m “critical” (they mean argumentative). I’m talking about how all those labels can really hurt a person, especially when they couldn’t be any further from the truth. I’m talking about who I am and how I think putting me in direct conflict with those around me, when all I ever want is to sit around with people – and talk and think and be inspired together. This is how I learn. This is how I understand my world. (Think about how someone with a mechanical mind might take apart a radio to see what is going on inside to better understand it’s functioning, capability, and future application. Well, while I have zero mechanical inclination, this is what my brain does with ideas.)

But taking ideas apart makes people nervous,  just like a kid taking apart his mother’s car would make people nervous – because people like their ideas the way they like their cars: solid. unchanging. reliable.

Asking questions can sometimes make people feel like you are arguing with them. And for most of my life, this confused me. And then I had kids. And I realized that the only time I get upset with my kids’ questions (for any reason other than they are just talking too much), it’s because they are re-thinking/questioning/thinking differently about something that – in my mind – was already decided. I don’t want to be questioned, I realized.

Ironically, those who get the most defensive when they are confronted with questions are the same people who have to shut down those questions by equating questions with arguing or disagreeing. But that is just small minded thinking. Because we can ask questions – difficult questions, over and over and over – without arguing. We can even do it passionately!

Some people like to wrestle with ideas. It’s called learning and growing. But for others, wrestling with ideas requires way too much vulnerability. And that is when we get defensive. Because if we can’t admit what we don’t know, then we have to fight for what we think we do.

People like their conclusions. People like feeling a sense of certainty.

So questions and unpacking ideas and looking at things from all angles tends to rock the boat. Because when we cling to what we think we know for our sense of security then there can never be any room for questions.

This year, I made the life changing discovery that when people respond negatively to the way I think about the world, it’s not me they are upset with. They are responding to a deeper insecurity. An insecurity, about certainty.

And that, I totally get.

I can relate to wanting to “know” things. We want to know that we are loved. We want to know that everything will be ok. We want to know that what we believe is right. We want to know that our actions will get us the desired results. We. Want. To. Know.

The problem is, though (please don’t get mad), we can’t. We don’t.

There are so very little things in this life that are certain. I don’t need to run down the list for you. You already know them. Or at least, you feel them.

But I can tell you this. I can ask questions and chase down new ideas because being right or being certain is not my goal. My goal is to live from a deep and unshakable place of confidence.

I’m confident in who God made me to be. I’m confident that there is not much I’ll be certain of this side of Heaven. I’m confident that that’s ok. I’m confident that the lack of certainty leads to a surplus of faith. I’m confident that questions and faith are not opposites, but two sides of the same coin. I’m confident that the less I claim to know  the more I’m free to ask and learn. I’m confident that the more I question, the more I grow. I’m confident that I don’t need to figure it out, because God didn’t ask me to figure him out, he just asked me to follow. I’m confident that if Jesus never tired of the people coming to him and asking their questions, then he won’t be bothered by mine.

I’m confident because Jesus asked us to come to him  as little children. And if there is one thing my oldest has shown me, it’s that kids love to ask questions. They love to be critical. They know that they don’t know things, and so they climb on my lap and pull at my hands – and ask.

Over, and over, and over.

My kids aren’t arguing, just like I’m not arguing. We are observing. We are asking. We are growing. And we are leaving the knowing, up to someone who knows better, than us.

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