Photo Credit: Darcy Donovan
Complexity is piling up like snowbanks on my lawn. We just get one wet snowfall shoveled in time for the next one to blow into a bank around the door. The piles started out neatly enough. But it is late winter now and the ice threatens to freeze my heart along with the missing mittens. The chaos and division desperately need some spring.
I have been having the most interesting conversations with people. Some are comforting, others confusing. All of them have made me curious. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the complexity of people. I love the way that I can think I know someone only to be completely surprised (or disappointed) by a dimension of them I had never seen before. Many years ago, a mentor gave me advice that has changed my life: “People weren’t made for boxes, so never accept the ones they try to put you in. Be who you are, even and especially when it means you don’t fit neatly into categories.” Then, he fell from grace.
When he and others I have loved had their brokenness revealed, I began to be more deeply aware of my own cracks. I know simultaneously that I am both wounded and worthy of love. I see my own capacity for hurting people and for helping them. Maybe what troubles me most about our current world is an overly simplistic longing for people to be purely evil or purely good, but we are all always capable of both. I most often need to remember this about myself. I am more complex than I can fully know and appreciate, and so is everyone else.
A person can be a fantastic partner on one project and then utterly incomprehensible to me when they share their thoughts on another issue. The disconnection in the second situation doesn’t necessarily mean that the connection in the first was inauthentic. It could mean a lot of things, including that one or both of us has changed, that we are informed by different sources or experiences, that we agree about some things and not others. Maybe we need to ask more questions, or set some boundaries. Certainly, it is an invitation to pay attention to how we are being called to respond to relationships and situations.
In a world seduced by the idea everyone is entitled to your opinion, I feel called to three complicating questions to embrace complexity:
- Who am I in all my complexity and inconsistencies?
- Who am I being called to connect with, to be curious about, to listen to and share with?
- What purpose do my words and actions serve, now and into the future?
When I pay attention to my own intentions, ideas, and idiosyncrasies, I discover that I am not as perfect as I like to think I am. This leads me to look for places where I can relate to or empathize with people I disagree with. I see the dirt in my snowbanks, the context in how the extension cord got buried unintentionally, the ways I would have done things differently.
There are so many people out there doing and saying things. And most of them are outside of the circle I am being asked to influence or love. Years ago, I participated in my own decline into depression by taking responsibility for people and situations well beyond my control. There are incredible people in my sphere who I am being asked to love, learn from, talk with, and even influence (though mostly in ways I fail to anticipate!). The miracle is that it is enough to focus in on the diverse communities that I belong to already. My muscles make it pretty clear when I try to shovel snow that isn’t mine or that I am not equipped to handle; my mental health can send me the same strain signals.
Staying attuned to my purpose is the final key. Am I supposed to be a prophet or a teacher, a healer or a mystic? Most often, my purpose is revealed to me in reflection with God and my community, rather than an expression of what my ego wants. In my own life, God has revealed to me that I was made to be an encourager of hearts. It is what my leadership, my writing, my relationships reveal over the long term most consistently.
None of this is simple, but when I sit with the complexity, I find that who I am and am called to be, who I serve, and what God wants from me distills into a simple sort of peace. There are not perfect paths through snowbanks or chaos. There is each of us doing what we can, where we are, as we are to walk through the dormant preparation of winter towards the next spring.