Confusion is the Step Before Clarity

There is the expression that “confusion is the step before clarity.” What happens in that step? What is the aha moment?

I am currently confused about a couple of key things in my life. First, at my age there is the subject of what comes next, when will that occur and where it will take us? Presently we have a home bigger than what we need and a fair piece of property, both of which require care and maintenance. The second is what about this dang hip pain. How much will that impact the years ahead? What would be the next option to try and mitigate it?

Leaning into confusion can be remarkable. Everyone wants to “look smart” yet confusion means we are on the cusp of gaining knowledge or wisdom, better yet mastering some complex idea. Confusion can be a benefit because it makes us seek to understand. American author and speaker on screenwriting, Syd Field stated, “Confusion is the first step toward clarity. What you try that doesn’t work will always show you what does work.” There’s a path forward for each of us. Discomfort can be the first step. Great things in life can come after overcoming obstacles and challenges.

Confusion or lack of clarity is often based on too many choices or options, not enough knowledge, listening to other people’s opinions, and sometimes a lack of goals and a personal vision. When we lack clarity about a situation, we can waste precious time and energy overthinking things. Overthinking that leads to anxiety, worry, and doubt that can cause strain or tension. All these elements can be controlled by us. It is not up to others to provide clarity. Gaining clarity is not something that happens from our environment; it isn’t a matter of luck either. Clarity comes from inside and is our decision. It can be a result of a difficult, but needed, conversation we choose to avoid. Sometimes we need to go through the issue to gain resolution. We can find our voice, say what needs to be said, ask hard questions, and do the work.

The step from confusion often depends on the elimination of mental clutter; clarity is a state of mind. The elimination of clutter is a personal and intentional examination. I believe Melody Beattie said it best when she commented that gratitude can turn confusion into clarity because gratitude can make sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Open our eyes and embrace what life brings. To paraphrase Thomas Carlyle, let’s see what clearly lies at hand and not worry about that which is dimly down the road. We can see the next step without having to see the total outcome. A flashlight works better than a floodlight. Clarity occurs when we have enough information to make an informed, optimal decision. Then we make that decision.

This step is frequently needed to build and maintain a healthy organization, be it a business, team, organization, family, even a nation. To create clarity, we need alignment. Alignment can be frustratingly hard to achieve if we are not specific about the outcomes we are looking to achieve. More time is invested on inspiration, motivation, and concern regarding the outside forces (marketplace, competition, others) than is invested on setting, clarifying, and communicating realistic expectations – our own expectations, the expectations we have of others, and the expectations others have of us regarding outcomes. Making this effort proactively beforehand is a terrific way to avoid confusion and disappointment.

Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.” The psalmist implies there is a darkness of spiritual vision, with a full assurance that God can show the vast treasures in the word which he had not yet fully seen. To see the wondrous things of God’s law and gospel, we must implore of Him to open our eyes as the step to understanding. In Psalm 119:130, “The revelation of your words sheds light, gives understanding to the simple,” the word of God gives understanding for us to use in our journey. His testimony is like a light in a dark place to show the steps ahead.

St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (13:12), he writes, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” Paul is describing the knowledge of God and His ways as incomplete or partial, describing it as seeing a reflection in a dim mirror. Scholars suggest that Paul was referencing Corinth’s famous bronze mirrors, known for their imperfect reflections. Now, after the coming of Christ, we can see God face to face, knowing Him in person instead of through partial revelation.

2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of [Jesus] Christ.” Paul uses an allusion to his episode at Damascus to note that only the light of the gospel can penetrate the darkness of unbelief in Jesus. “Light” is a common metaphor used by Hebrew thinkers to represent everything good and valuable. It’s especially tied to the idea of knowledge and guidance. Paul also adds a detail which is crucial to the gospel: the idea of God giving mankind a person, rather than an idea, as our salvation. The light, knowledge, and glory are reflected “in the face” of Christ. Rather than man being assigned virtues, or work, God intended us to seek a relationship with His Son.

God has put us here at this place and time for a reason, His purpose. We need to discern through prayer and reflection what that reason is. Let’s seek to understand the path forward and take our step towards clarity. It is our decision to open our eyes and see the light.

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