What do you do when knowledge and understanding hurts?

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

-Albert Einstein

When I was in high school, I went on a summer mission trip that held life-changing moments for me. Not only did I visit multiple countries, I learned the American way of doing and understanding things is not the same in other cultures.

I remember the excitement I felt as I traveled through Spain that summer. I had taken Spanish 1 in the 10th grade and I, along with my teammates, were eager to use our knowledge and understanding of the Spanish language. 

After many weeks in Gibraltar, a British Territory where most spoke both English and Spanish, my teammates and I felt we had grown in our use of Spanish and when we found ourselves in Madrid, 12 men tested our understanding.

Our team made up of 31 teens and six leaders, only one of us had over one school year of Spanish under their belts. In the arrogance of youth, I wasn’t too worried because if we ran into something we didn’t understand, we could look it up in a Spanish dictionary.

At the end of the summer, our team came into Madrid on one train and needed to get to another train station to travel to Paris. As we grouped up, we discussed our options. 

When we saw many cars lined up outside the station with signs reading, “libre” we smiled because we knew this word meant, “free.” We figured this was a shuttle the train system in Spain gave to travelers who needed to connect with a train at the other station. 

Feeling pleased with ourselves and our grasp of the Spanish language, all 37 of us and our summer gear got into 12 of these vehicles and they transported us to the other train station.

When we disembarked at our destination, we gathered our things and hastened to our connecting train. As we did, the men who drove these 12 cars yelled at us in Spanish.

 I turned and looked their way and my heartbeat increased while trying to understand what they were yelling. This made little sense; I knew what the Spanish word meant and then, I heard a word I did understand, “policía.”

We soon discovered we did not understand Spanish well. Yes, the word, libre means “free” but it’s not as in no cost; it means free as in unoccupied, available or at liberty. We wound up reaching into our emergency funds to pay a hefty fee for all 12 cabs. This is a case of “knowing” but not “understanding.”

What is knowing?

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To know something is to study it, experience it, and sometimes require you to show the ability to give back information. Much of our formal schooling centered on learning about many subjects. This is knowledge.

This knowledge is important. As we age, we build upon what we know, and then higher-level thinking branches off of this.

What knowledge is important?

There is much debate on what knowledge is important to learn. As a 30-plus year educator, I want to say I think general knowledge is always a plus for my students, but I can no longer teach many of these things. 

With state and federal required curriculum, we teachers and administrators must test what knowledge the students need in the world they now live.

Examples of subjects that are on the chopping block with many school systems are cursive writing and the knowledge of how to write citations. 

Our digital world has washed in giving students the use of electronic signatures much of the time, and there are many citation creators online. Many educators and administrators say these two examples are subjects that are not necessary.

But knowledge is important; the Bible even addresses this. II Timothy 2:15 (KJV), “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

God wants his people to know his word. Knowledge is important. The writer of Psalm 119:105 (NIV) says, “Your word is a lamp for me feet, a light on my path.” Knowledge of God’s word gives direction and yet knowledge without understanding can be dangerous.

When knowledge is dangerous

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Einstein also said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Knowing about something is only half of what we need. You can know how to build an atomic bomb, but if you don’t understand the repercussions of creating such a powerful thing; the knowledge is dangerous. The same is true with spiritual things.

James 2:19 alludes to the fact that demons (and I’m including Satan) know about God and “tremble” (NLT). 

Here, the demonic spiritual world knows much about God and his word, but their understanding is limited; if it weren’t, they wouldn’t be God’s enemies. There is a difference between knowledge and understanding.

What is understanding?

In my story of our travels in Spain, we had the knowledge of what the word “libre” meant but we did not understand the implications of the word. Understanding, in a general sense, is the knowledge you can use and apply to your life.

If this is correct, it is possible for someone to be intelligent but unwise in how to apply this knowledge. Many label these people “book-smart” rather than “street-smart.”

When understanding hurts

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Knowledge is important and its limitations can bring difficulties, as I described in my experience with the cab drivers in Spain. 

Understanding is vital because we need to apply what we know as we move through our days, but what do you do when knowledge and understanding hurts?

Fight, not run

If you watch or read the news, you know much of it is distressing and if you are empathetic, you will hurt. Sitting on your couch, shaking your head means you understand why the information is not good, but this brings no help for the situation. 

One thing we can do to is to choose something to fight for.

When I was in Bible college, a professor suggested we choose a social issue we are passionate about and work toward fighting for change. 

He said this to encourage us not to spread ourselves too thin. If we pick one thing at a time to fight, our energy will be stronger.

Seek guidance from those who have knowledge and understanding of the situation because they have been through it.

The difficulties of life strike when you’re not expecting them. They can include illnesses, betrayals, the heartache of a child who has made bad decisions or the death of a pet.

 Sometimes, we need the help and guidance of someone who has been in a similar situation and can help you piece together the puzzle of what you know so you, too, can understand.

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These puzzle pieces may be the guidance that we can only control ourselves, not the choices of others.

Someone who has “been there” may point out to you they know the pain of death and can help support you through your grief and, when appropriate, help you understand the pain will ease, in time.

When you are hurting, tap into others and their experiences. You can find a gold mine of information, help and comfort.

Trust that God will take care of the situation

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God knows we have a limited understanding. There are things that happen to us in this world that have the power to destroy us but, as God’s people, we can ask him to take control of the situation.

 If all you have is the knowledge of a hurtful situation, it’s logical you will be like a swimmer, treading water, indefinitely. Eventually, you will run out of strength, but this is unnecessary.

If God is God, he can handle your situation. I Corinthians 10:13 (NLT) says, The temptations in your life do not differ from what others experience. And God is faithful. 

He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

These verses refer to temptation but the Bible teaches, besides help with this, God is in control of everything, even the most hurtful things of our lives. It is in the understanding that God will not allow things that are “more than you can stand,” that enables us to go on.

I would like to point out here, however, there are many things we feel we cannot stand difficulties any longer, but God allows it to go on. We have to trust that God truly does know how much we can endure. The good news is, he promises to help if we ask.

How do you keep going in life when you hurt? Decide which things to fight, tap into the strength of others who have walked your path and ask God to give his guidance and strength.


Susan Grant has taught middle and high school students for more than 30 years. She is a member of the National Writing Project and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She has won writing competitions and published pieces of non-fiction, fiction and essays in publications including, Longridge Review, Chattanooga Writers’ Guild and the Bangor Daily News. Susan’s writing can be found at soulfitness101.com
Susan Grant has taught middle and high school students for more than 30 years. She is a member of the National Writing Project and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She has won writing competitions and published pieces of non-fiction, fiction and essays in publications including, Longridge Review, Chattanooga Writers’ Guild and the Bangor Daily News. Susan’s writing can be found at soulfitness101.com

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