In Response

by James D. Witmer

Well-Squandered Youth

“When I met my wife, I was cripplingly serious. No, I mean like special-parking-space serious.”
~ Andrew Osenga

I used to think I had missed the greatest opportunity of youth: The freedom to make mistakes and learn by experience.

Then I realized that I hadn’t. I spent those years dispensing with one of the greatest errors a person can commit: Taking oneself too seriously, enslaved by a terror of being wrong.

I learned by experience that it’s no way to live.

“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
~ CS Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”

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4 comments on “Well-Squandered Youth

  1. David
    November 21, 2012

    As someone quite susceptible to those particular temptations, I’m right there with you. It’s no way to live.

    I would add that the enslaving terror, precisely stated, is the terror of appearing wrong, or the terror of being shown wrong (whether anyone else notices or not). We ought to be afraid of being wrong; and the more important the thing, the more afraid we should be to be wrong about it. The terror of being refuted, though (whether publicly or privately), shows that we do not much care about the thing, nor being wrong about it, but about being thought clever and wise, or thinking ourselves clever and wise. And that terror, ironically, will often cause us to persist in actually being wrong. “When a man spends his energy on appearing to have, he is all the time destroying what he has, and therein the very means of becoming what he desires to seem.” (MacDonald)

    Someone called me on this vice by saying it was, in intellectual form, the sin of the wicked servant in the Lord Jesus’s parable of the talents.

    Now that this comment exceeds the length of your post, I’ll stop. I hope you and your family are well. A very happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

    Cheers,
    David

    • JamesDWitmer
      November 23, 2012

      David,

      Thanks very much for taking the time to read, and for writing such a thoughtful comment! We are well, and I hope you are also.

      I really appreciate your observation that this terror will “often cause us to persist in actually being wrong.” I think there is a real difference between fearing error (at least for the wrong reasons) and loving truth.

      I’m conflicted about your suggestion that we ought to be afraid of being wrong.

      I can get as far as saying maybe it’s why we fear error that matters. Starting from there, it’s clear that fearing the opinions of others, and insisting on our own cleverness are bad reasons to fear error.

      But let me add to the list of bad motivations, from actual things I struggled with:
      – Fear that God would not bless me if I was wrong (about pretty much anything)
      – Fear that God would disapprove of, even dislike, me if I was wrong
      – Fear that God would remove Himself from active involvement in my life if I persisted in errors, even unintentionally

      From these foundational fears came other fears, amounting to the fear that people in my life would be like the god of my terror.

      Because of this, I’m having trouble thinking of any legitimate reasons to fearbeing in error, especially given the difference between fearing error and desiring truth (which we should do most passionately, considering the gracious generosity given to us).

      I am intrigued to hear what healthy reasons for fear you are thinking of.

      (Also, there’s an enormous can of worms inside the question of who gets to decide what are the subjects important enough to fear. But maybe that’s another discussion!)

      Thanks again for sharing your perspective!

      ———————-

      PS: The new rule for this post is that all comments must exceed the length of the original post. Thanks for playing! 😉

      • David
        November 26, 2012

        James:

        You wrote:

        I can get as far as saying maybe it’s why we fear error that matters. Starting from there, it’s clear that fearing the opinions of others, and insisting on our own cleverness are bad reasons to fear error.

        But let me add to the list of bad motivations, from actual things I struggled with:
        – Fear that God would not bless me if I was wrong (about pretty much anything)
        – Fear that God would disapprove of, even dislike, me if I was wrong
        – Fear that God would remove Himself from active involvement in my life if I persisted in errors, even unintentionally

        Good call on these. Given the heart’s gravitational pull toward sin, even the legitimate reasons to fear error may well tend to veer off in the general direction of the bad motivations you list here. So it’s probably wiser to think positively — of loving and seeking truth — rather than negatively, of fearing error.

        Cheers,
        David

  2. JamesDWitmer
    November 27, 2012

    David,

    “Veering off in the general direction” of something-or-other is something I’m always prone to, so I agree with your conclusion.

    Thanks again for reading and thinking along!

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