Thursday, May 31, 2012

Living in the Tension

The books on my bookshelf are divided into 10 categories:  Political Theory, Current Politics, Biography, Development Theory, Classics, Contemporary Fiction, Christian Fiction, Relationships/Self Help, Christian Living, and Baby Names. I have still more shelves for cookbooks, travel books, Favorite Books, and current devotional books. I find it unsettling when a book doesn't fit obviously into one of my established categories.

I'd like to be able to sort feelings, states of beings, and people the same way. Good feelings on the top shelf; bad feelings hidden behind the Obama-Biden 2008 poster propped on the bottom shelf. This person goes with the other No Good people, while you over here can be filed away with the People Who Are Awesome.

This journey through pregnancy loss has challenged my categories (anybody else find that far too many episodes of the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise have forever ruined the word "journey?" We may need a better metaphor). I cannot file my emotions into a convenient category. I feel all at once despair and hope and sorrow and joy and doubt and faith and fear and peace. When people ask how I am, "fine" seems the only reasonable answer because how do you describe feeling abandoned and loved at the same time? If there is a word for this state of being - a full life in the emptiest of places - I do not know it.

But here I remain. Both angry and grateful. Both hopeful and despairing. Both-and.

I am having the same trouble lately categorizing people. I'd rather be able to neatly place you into your proper space: Conservative, Liberal, Right, Wrong, Good, Bad, Friends, Enemies, Worthy, Unworthy.

Todd likes to use the phrase "living in the tension" - when we sit in the discomfort of two conflicting thoughts or feelings and refuse to try to rationalize one away or reconcile them dishonestly. Loving people involves living in the tension. Sometimes it's the tension of loving people who don't love each other when it'd be more comfortable to choose sides. Sometimes it's the tension of loving people who make me angry when it'd be easier to walk away. Sometimes it's the tension of loving people who I'm certain are wrong about The Important Things when it'd be more convenient to label them heretical or hopeless. It's even sometimes the tension of loving people who don't love me back.

There is a lot of pressure to create simple black-and-white boxes in which to keep people. Our political and media systems give people a label and expect that one word is enough for us to draw all of our conclusions about their character and ability to lead. You are "Liberal" so you must hate God and America and want to kill babies. You are "Conservative" so you must hate Muslims and progress and want women to sit down and shut up. Unhealthy Christianity does this too - teaching us that we can only love with "conditions and contingencies."

This isn't true.

I can adore both my friend who proudly wears his NRA hat and my friend who writes a blog that calls Mitt Romney an unkind word.

I can love both my recently outed gay friend and our mutual friends who have been cold to him.

I can think that the actions of a friend of mine are pretty heinous and completely opposed to the things I value and can still think that she is sweet, caring, and dear to me.

I get the privilege of loving all of these people, even when it's hard, even when I'm angry, even when it's awkward. My friend tweeted it to me this way: I feel like I have a true license to love. Anyone, anywhere, anytime.

I remember the first time I realized the both-and of relationships. Todd and I had been married for a few months and were in the middle of some over-the-top melodrama that seemed so desperately important at the time and probably wouldn't cause either of us to blink now. I was so angry I could have kicked him in the shins and so, rather wisely for my 22-year-old self, retreated to the bedroom to fold laundry instead. Epiphanies while doing laundry may be rare but it stopped me hard: I could both claw that man's eyes out and I am folding his underwear. This is love. Both-and.

I'm not going to make assumptions about where other people find the strength for both-and love. Here's where I'm finding it right now: in a deep (and new) sense of my own belovedness. I read recently that brokenness is sacred. This feels true. It seems to me that when we are brokenhearted, it's just that much easier for the divine, the holy, the love to get in through the cracks. Rich Mullins wrote a song that says it like this:

Joy and sorrow are this ocean
And in their every ebb and flow
Now the Lord a door has opened
That all hell could never close
Here I'm tested and made worthy
Tossed about but lifted up
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the Love of God

I'm not finding the Love of God to be sentimental or mushy. It feels fierce. It feels (here it is again) both like it might shred me to pieces and is carrying me with enormous tenderness. This incredible sense of divine love for me despite the weight of my imperfections and faithlessness and cowardice is making it that much harder to label people - with their imperfections and faithlessness and cowardice - Unworthy of Love. I think it's time to throw out the categories.

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