Some Early Morning Reflections on the Complexity of Life
As I sit by my daughter’s bed at 2am – teething, I’ve been told, will eventually pass – a number of thoughts traverse my tired mind. Most are muddled. What day is it? Did the Cubs win yesterday? What is the meaning of life? But I keep returning to one thought in particular: life is so complex.
Doing some self-psychologizing, I came to realize a couple of things about this thought. Firstly, it’s not truly mine. I am not the first, and hardly the last, person to wrestle with human finitude and the complexities of life. Not that this fact makes coming to terms with the reality this thought conveys any less important, though it does temper my enthusiasm with my own seeming intelligence.
I also came to the realization that two recent experiences shape my thought.
Some Recent Experiences
This week I re-watched Ridley Scott’s masterful film, The Martian, which is based on the same-titled book by Andy Weir. In this story, astronaut Mark Watney presumed dead after an accident during an emergency evacuation from Mars and is left, by himself, on the Red Plant for 560 sols (Martian days). Apart from NASA’s efforts to rescue Watney, a driving theme of this film is the complexity of life on Mars, how even Watney’s simplest needs often require difficult undertakings to make the things happen. The Martian powerfully reminds us of the complexities of life that arise when we change contexts or break the routines that help us make sense of the realities in which we function.
The foremost thought driving my reflection on the complexity of life this early morning is, of course, the fact that my infant daughter has many needs, including needs very early in the middle of what used to be my time to sleep. Some of her needs are quite basic: food, shelter, and human contact, for instance. Others are a tad more specific: a particular type of shampoo, a safe car seat, a specific style of diaper. She is also learning to communicate her basic take on certain things. Such as, “I don’t like this type of baby food, let’s try something different… But no, not that baby food either.” Or, in the case of this morning’s struggle, her desire to have her pacifier oriented just so for her aching soon-to-be-teeth as she tries to return to dreamland.
Life is complex. Recent experiences, as well as wisdom from great minds confirms this fact. For what does God communicate to Job (Job 38-41) if not the infinite complexity of human existence and the transcendence of reasons why things happen? But what does this mean? What are some implications for the realizing of life’s complexity? I propose three dualities, not as answers per se, but as tools for processing those things that make up daily life.
Life is both easy and hard. Life is easy insofar as it is our default state (at least, for a time). We do not really have to do anything to be alive—it just happened to us. Of course, sustaining life is hard, sometimes exceedingly so. This is particularly true where systematic injustice reigns: rampant poverty, authoritarian power games, hatred for other humans for arbitrary reasons—all of these things make life hard. Keeping both the ease and difficulties of life in mind allows us to tailor expectations and actions to whatever life throws at us. In this way, we can both rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15).
Life is obvious and obfuscated. The touch point here is when interacting with others. People do stupid stuff. (Don’t believe me? Come drive for a day in St. Louis.) Sometimes the motives are seemingly obvious; other times they are obfuscated behind anonymity or context. Regardless, I contend, we should presume the best of intentions for others actions, at least as far as possible (Rom 12:18). What a difference this can make, not only those around us, but also for our own souls. What a difference between becoming irate over someone cutting you off in traffic and putting ourselves in that person’s shoes for a moment and presuming decent intentions (Rom 12:21).
Life is simple and complex. Didn’t life seem much simpler in the past? It wasn’t really that much more simple, although we do have more means of distraction today than ever before in recorded human history. But when we were younger, life seemed simpler and, for many of us, it was. No mortgage, no nine-to-five job, no negotiating relationships or family drama. Of course, as we grew older life becomes more complex and filled with responsibilities. Yet along with those added stressors came greater depth and privilege. Certainly life was simpler when I went to play with grade school friends; but our conversations and love for one another pale in comparison to the friends of our adult lives.
The End of Reflection
As I continue to reflect on the complexity of life this early morning, I am reminded of yet another factor that undoubtedly influences my thinking: the Easter story. Most of you reading this will be quite aware that this past week, Christians around the world have celebrated the death and return to life of Jesus of Nazareth, the central event of the Good News of God.
If God has broken into human history and life as the Christian narrative claims he has, then human life is both immeasurably more complex than we might first think but also (and in a different way) more simple. Reality is multilayered, rich, and complex because humanity cannot stand on its own. We are all involved in the grand tapestry that the God of universe is weaving, a complex reality that defies mere human understanding.
But our existence is also simplified by Christ’s death and resurrection. For we are no longer beholden to the structures and complexities of a merely natural reality. There is a grand architect behind the cosmos, one who loves us and desires to bring us into full life with him. By his death we are freed from the infirmities of sin, death, and the devil and brought into newness of life, a life that relies on and is caught up in the glory of God. What better response to the complexities of life than that?
Image courtesy of Isengardt.