Saying Yes to My Hunger for Mystery

I felt grown-up in a borrowed pair of strappy heels and a new ivory eyelet dress, carefully chosen so it wouldn’t show through my white confirmation robe. My friends and I gathered on the church lawn to pose for pictures. After dozens of dignified shots, we flapped our arms for a silly photo, pretending the billowing sleeves of our robes were angels’ wings.

We wore red felt stoles over our shoulders, decorated with ribbon, beads, and puff paint. Each right side held symbols of our faith—doves, butterflies, candles, interlocking trinity rings. On the left side, we showed who we were. Mine was covered with musical instruments, sports equipment, art supplies, pointe shoes, and, of course, books.

When it was time for the confirmation service to begin, I stood with my classmates in front of the familiar sanctuary with its stained-glass windows and padded pews. Our parents, grandparents, and godparents watched us proudly. After years of sermon notes and service projects and countless Sunday School worksheets, we’d completed our requirements and were ready to profess our faith before the congregation.

I tried to focus on the meaning of that momentous occasion but my thoughts drifted to the celebratory meal and gift-wrapped presents awaiting me at home. I had expected to feel awe and closeness to God. Instead, I was hot and bored and couldn’t wait to take off my itchy robe.

I noticed tears on the cheeks of some of my classmates, even those who didn’t plan to come back to church unless their parents made them. Was I missing something? Why were they so moved when I felt only distance? What was wrong with me that I was more excited about lunch?

Is this all there is? I wondered. I expected something more.

I don’t often think about that girl in the white robe. Her quiet dejection gets overshadowed by more dramatic memories. But she’s still a part of me. I feel her in the lonely ache when all the answers seem too small and I wonder if I’m the only one not satisfied.

If I could whisper in her ear, I’d offer a gentle reminder that no one has exhausted life’s mysteries by the age of fourteen—or thirty-four or ninety-four.

The empty feeling inside wasn’t deadness but hunger. On that beautiful spring morning, she was craving more than cheesy potatoes. While she had reached a milestone in her formal instruction, the kind of knowledge she longed for can’t be taught.

From my vantage point in the future, I know that she will search for more satisfying answers and find people eager to provide them. I wouldn’t warn her away entirely, but I would caution that trying to accumulate certainty will weigh her down without filling her up.

Deeper understanding doesn’t quench the hunger. It feeds it, pointing us toward the next thing we didn’t know we didn’t know. The more she learns, the more what she thinks she knows will be challenged and changed. This will hurt when she measures her worth by the certainty of her answers.

I wish I could assure her that when something doesn’t make sense or seems incomplete, it isn’t a sign that she’s not good enough to understand. Instead, it’s a promise that there is more than what she knows. Far from withholding, mystery reveals itself bit by bit as we grow ready for each new lesson.

I want to tell her everything I know, but some things need to be lived instead of taught. My last whispered advice would be to go home to her party, eat until she’s pleasantly full, tear the wrapping paper off her presents, hug the people who love her, and remember that this day is only one landmark in a lifetime full of possibility.

If any of my words echoed in her ears, I hope they would remind her to stay hungry, be curious, and never stop making room in her seriousness for play. I want to learn what she discovers.

Johanna Schram

Writer at joRuth
Johanna Schram is learning to value wrestling with the questions over having all the answers. She’s sifting through the internal and external expectations of who she is supposed to be to discover who she really is, what she values, and what she has to give. Join her at joRuth and deepen your self-knowledge with her free guides.

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  • Oh, yes! I keep thinking I’ll solve some of life’s mysteries but I’m finding that I just keep discovering more…. Thank you for this lovely reflection!

    • Thanks, Annie! There’s so much to discover, isn’t there?

  • Jo, this is beautiful! I love the picture that you paint of your confirmation day, and I love the gentleness that you hold toward that young girl that you were. I love that you still hunger for mystery.

    • Thank you, Jess! I wasn’t always able to be so gentle towards her. I’m glad I’m learning to appreciate mystery instead of criticizing myself for not having it all figured out. 🙂