I have always been led to believe that life is building toward something. All of the circumstances and emotions are like pieces, gathering and assembling toward a finished product–a definite answer.
When there is something going on in my life that is broken, one must fix it. You have to get that part working so it can do its part and move life along the assembly line toward that eventual output. Seems very industrial of me; very American.
When I was in high school, our physics teacher gave us an assignment. Essentially, we had to produce a complicated machine that produced a commonplace result.
My best friend, Andrew, was my partner for this project. It’s funny because I cannot for the life of me remember what simple task our machine was built to produce. We built something that started with a marble going through a three-dimensional path, made mostly from a Hot Wheels track. It landed in a catapult and shot the marble across the room. The marble hit a toy car that rolled around another set of Hot Wheel tracks and set off some other elements I cannot remember.
Life often feels like this. A bunch of absurdity and complexity that is supposed to accomplish a simple function. Happiness, I guess.
Andrew and I had almost perfected our contraption, after hours of work. But then we realized we had a major problem. At one point, our marble fell off the end of the track and clicked a remote-control car switch, moving it from “off” to “on”. The car raced a few feet in order to trigger the next element. Well, in our haste, we failed to remember that a remote-control car that is turned on does not necessarily move.
The assignment required us to take a video of the contraption, which we would show to the class. So, like any short-cut seeking high-schoolers, we decided to cut corners. Andrew was off camera with the remote-control car. When the marble switched it “on”, he pushed the lever forward and nobody was the wiser.
We got an A.
I often found myself wondering, “What in the world am I building?” What is the output? Why am I doing all the things I am doing?
And why in the world is it not working?
The Answer or The Question
I have always assumed the elements work together to produce a nice, clean answer. A shiny, clear, powerful, and worthwhile object that I could hold in my hand and study its contours. I could see it and hold it and proclaim to all, “Here is the answer! I hold it in my hand!”
The more I experience living, the more I think the product life produces is not an answer at all. It is a question. Or, perhaps more accurately, questions.
Why am I doing this? Why does this matter? What do people think of me? Why does what people think of me matter?
As my emotions churn, their constant spinning weaves a bunch of questions, not answers. As I navigate my circumstances, they lead me to questions, not answers. And when I ask my questions, they too – annoyingly – lead to a factory of more questions.
This is hard and disappointing.
Maybe, just maybe, my life is working better than I think. Maybe the confusion and pain and chaos is mostly because I think life is supposed to be spewing out answers when it is really spewing out questions.
The people who claim to have all the answers seem to be either a) very wrong, b) living in a false reality, or c) lying. I don’t know the answers. My life is not an answer factory. It is a question factory.
Perhaps life is not about answering all of the questions but learning to ask the right ones. Learning to live and wrestle with your factory of questions, to do your best to pursue answers but focus on stewarding the asking with courage and character.
Joey Willis is a writer and Servant Leadership Trainer with The Crossroad.