Sunday, June 03, 2012

Ending with Questions

I've been thinking lately about what it means to truly believe something, and in what ways belief that is strong enough can actually take part in shaping reality. I was challenged last weekend to think that perhaps part of the difficulties I have been dealing with lately are little more than a chance to exercise the beliefs I have long held and test the veracity of their underlying foundations. I have felt myself for the past several months walking along this razor-thin edge of a precipice. I have wavered back and forth between the belief I have long held that things always work out eventually and the reality of things not being okay in the present. This prompted some challenging questions for me. What is the definition of "ok"; if things are not okay now, what will decide them being okay in the future? What do I need to feel "ok"? What do I need to feel that my efforts at "doing the right thing" are paying off? Is this really something that can be decided by external circumstances?

As I wrestle with these questions, I notice that what defines "ok" is really not external circumstances but the perception that I hold about my situation; the beliefs that I have. If I really cling to my belief that everything will somehow work out, without including defining characteristics of what that will look like, then things will somehow work out. This seems a simple concept but one that I belief has important ramifications. I guess what I'm saying is that perhaps I need to learn to define my situation not by the external factors that are out of my control but by the internal factors that are in my control. But even this internal battle can be difficult. I live in a country where the standard of "ok" is very different from most other places in the world. The standard of "ok" seems to often to be defined by the images I see around me and my external circumstances as opposed to the way that I respond and function within those circumstances. To what extent can we make ourselves okay in any situation, versus having to try to survive and wrestle with difficult questions when things are not okay?

I feel like a trend at the heart of a lot of these questions is the tendency to blame things on something outside of ourselves. Perhaps this is the consequence of a fast-paced, user-friendly society in which we are used to being able to solve problems and answer questions with the touch of a finger on a fancy screen. Perhaps it's just laziness. But I see this trend in many areas of life, from politics to religion. There is no patience, and seemingly little responsibility. We blame others and external circumstances for our problems because that is the easy thing to do. Admitting that perhaps we may have some power to impact things through patience and hard work is much too scary. In politics, we give our leaders, such as our current president, just a few months to solve problems that were a decade in the making before we start blaming him for failing to fix things and start looking for the next solution. In faith and religion, we get angry and blame God when things go wrong, asking questions that simply have no answer. We want things to make sense to us. We like the idea of free will until that involves being hurt by someone else's free will. We like the idea of freedom of expression and religion until that means that religions other than ours should also have that freedom. We want things to make sense according to our definition of "ok", which is completely unrealistic and ridiculous, as I'm realizing.

So, I'm thinking a lot about how our beliefs can shape reality in the ways that they shape our actions. If I truly believe that things will somehow work out, that belief will not only shape my perception of reality but will also influence me to act in ways that align with that belief. I will attempt to adjust to shifting circumstances and realities and constantly be looking for ways to improve a situation. Whereas, if I simply "hope" that things will eventually be okay, I rely entirely on external circumstances that will simply never line up with my unrealistic definition and expectations of what is "ok".

Even as I write this, I feel conflicted. I want to present this more as questions and progressing thoughts than anything else. I certainly do not agree with philosophies that say you simply need to will things to happen and then they will happen, I think that is utter bullshit. I wrestle extensively with the idea that sometimes things are simply not okay. But I also wonder to what extent we rely too heavily on external circumstances lining up in a particular way in order for us to be "okay". An image I will never lose comes from my time in Manila. I was down visiting a church one Friday night that worked with children who had been abandoned by their parents because their parents could not afford to keep them. This church took them in and placed them with various families in the area, most of whom were also poor and lived in squatter villages under a bridge but did everything they could to provide homes for these kids. We went to visit one of these families who lived in what was literally a city constructed out of various spare materials, located under a large bridge. The family we visited had a space just big enough for the 8 of them to sleep spread out, and their ceiling was the underside of the bridge. What struck me was how happy and content this family was. This was their reality and they could not have been happier to simply have a place to live and be together with one another. On their ceiling, the underside of the bridge, was written "Praise God for his provision". I went home that night and got annoyed that the air conditioning in my room was broken.

What struck me most about that family was that they were able to see provision and beauty in the smallest of things. Not only did they work hard to make the best of their circumstances, they reached out and took in other children whose parents could not care for them. There was no question or expectation about why they lived under a bridge or why their lives looked this way or when things would get better for them; this simply was their reality.

When I started out writing all this, I thought there would be a point to it. But now I'm really not sure there is. I guess at this point I'm really just plagued by endless questions and what exactly to do with all of these ideas. But perhaps that's the whole point. I've jumped straight to answers for too long, now in many ways I feel like I'm starting with answers and ending with questions.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Great writing. A persons perspective of a situation can be worse (or better) than the actuality of the circumstances themselves. True for memories. It is the attitude and not the aptitude that determines altitude.