ambiguity – noun | am·bi·gu·i·ty | \ˌam-bə-ˈgyü-ə-tē\
: something that does not have a single clear meaning
On Saturday, my husband and I bought a brand new car. Though both our names are on the paperwork and I’ve asked him over and over if he would rather drive the new car on his commute back and forth to work each day, the car is mine. It’s my first brand-new car, and maybe my only, since the sign at the dealership said most Hondas are still running 25 years later. By the time the car dies, I’ll be pushing 70 and will probably have a robot chauffeur or something.
At least that’s what I was thinking about by the end of the day when Steve and I sat out on the porch reading The Atlantic’s “A World without Work.” I went from the high of buying a new car with the money we had worked hard to earn, to the low of imagining a world in the not-too-distant future where automation will create widespread unemployment and our children will be left to navigate a new dystopia.
I get this same feeling in my gut a lot, lately. Last week, I listened curiously as the debate unfolded over the removal of the Confederate flag in South Carolina. Today, on the way to the YMCA, the Stars and Bars flapped wildly atop a pick-up truck in dire need of a muffler heading west on IN-28. Thursday, I had a hard conversation with a new friend from Panama about the discrimination she feels in our small Midwest city. Then Sunday, our youth director took up the banner and preached passionately against racism and all kinds of injustice. Every time I get on Facebook it happens, too. I see pictures of weddings and beach vacations and watch amazing videos like the one where a guy created a clarinet out of a carrot, and then I hear stories of racism and hate-filled comments about same-sex marriage and all-too familiar name-calling over politics and religion.
I want life to be one way or another. Or if I’m honest, I want life to be just one way. Happy, easy, fun. I want people to agree with me. I don’t want to be so offended and feel so defensive all the time. I want truth to be simple. I want to do what’s right (and to want to want to do what’s right). I want two people with the same goal to agree on the same means. And while I’m at it, I also want everyone to have the same goals to start with.
But if I got what I wanted, here’s what I’d miss: nuance, complexity, difference. I’d miss beauty from ashes, redemption from pain, heart-felt apologies. I’d miss the way love feels when it disagrees and still accepts. I’d miss the hand that reaches out even when wronged. I’d miss the hundreds of times when I’ve said, even to myself, “I’ve never thought of it like that.”
As a Christian, I turn to the Bible, I pray to Jesus, and I rely on the Holy Spirit to help me understand how to live, to determine what’s right and wrong. And sometimes, when I do that, things become really clear. Almost easy. But usually, when I call out to God for easy, I fool myself if I think that’s how he’ll answer. Because even Christians don’t agree on what the Bible says or who Jesus is or what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell them.
I’ve always thought ambivalence equaled weakness, and a lack of conviction was a sign of laziness. People who stand for nothing will fall for anything, I was always taught. And oh, how I want to stand. Sometimes, standing up for others is the most loving thing I can do.
But ambivalence is different than ambiguity. Ambivalence is about me, how I feel. It can leave me on the fence, unfeeling, inactive. Ambiguity is more about the nature of things, things that don’t have one clear meaning. Becoming comfortable with life’s ambiguity allows me to see that sometimes, standing up means knocking others down. And often, the most loving place for me is on my knees: helping, caring, praying. Engaged, determined, concerned, but open to new possibilities and alternate perspectives.
As I try to wrap my head around all the injustices and the controversies and the paradoxes, around all the historical decisions and the end-times speculations, around the misunderstandings and hurt feelings that happen even in my own home and among my own family members, I don’t want to remain ambivalent. Instead, here’s how I want to respond:
- Can you tell me more about that?
- Can you help me understand?
- Will you show me?
- Can I help you?
- Can we talk more about it?
- Will you forgive me?
- I was wrong.
- I’m afraid, too.
- You were right.
- I don’t know, either.
- Let’s see what we can find.
So, these three remain: faith, hope, and love. Faith that God is at work in the world and at work in people’s lives, even the people who think differently than me. Hope that He is always making all things new, even now when things seem so stubbornly old. And love—from God, of God, by God, for others, to others, from others.
And the greatest of these is love. Even if we don’t agree on what that means.
What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you.