I write a lot about suffering, because writing helps me wander through its meaning and big-picture purpose. (And others have said it has helped them, too.)
But I don’t want to leave the impression that my life is a melancholy drawl.
Despite these endless Nebraska winters. Come onnnnnnnnnn. 😉
I am buoyed by nuance.
Children draw lines around their worlds in big black sharpie markers. It helps them define me versus you, mine versus yours, us versus them. It builds identity, a sense of belonging, and a sense of placement in this world.
Their brains are constantly searching for patterns, drawing conclusion about what is safe or dangerous, what is acceptable or not, and making assumptions that help them survive both physically and socially.
Yesterday, ViVi (my 2 year old) noticed the vapor rising from my essential oil diffuser. She walked up to it and pointed. Hot. And pulled her finger back as if it had been singed. She shook her hand and blew on her finger.
(The vapor was not hot, in fact it’s more cool than hot.)
But her 2 year old brain told her that vapors rising from things like tea kettles on the stove and coffee in my mug mean hot, so she’d best avoid them all.
Classify and categorize.
It’s smart, right?
Unless we carry those habits into adulthood and continue to make assumptions about things in a black and white, binary manner without regard for nuance.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11, NLT
One of my favorite commentaries on nuance comes from Timothy and Kathy Keller.
In their devotional book, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, they broke down some of the differences in the Hebrew words found in Proverbs 1.
1 These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.
2 Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
to help them understand the insights of the wise.
3 Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
4 These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
knowledge and discernment to the young.
Proverbs 1:1-4, NLT
Keller broke down the words wisdom (hokma), insight (bina), prudence (ormah), and discretion (mezimma), among others.
My geeky word-brain loves this stuff, by the way. Don’t give up on me. 😉
Insight (bina) is a specific aspect of wisdom that means “the ability to notice distinctions and shades of difference where others see only a blur.”
To be wise is to recognize multiple options and courses of action where others can imagine only one or two. Wisdom discerns multiple dimensions to people’s motives and character, rather than putting everyone into binary categories… Discernment is also the ability to tell the difference not just between right and wrong but also among good, better, and best.
Timothy and Kathy Keller – God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life
Insight broadens my view beyond this moment.
(I’m the “simple” still learning, for sure.)
It means I can have a bad parenting moment and not assume that means “I am a bad parent.”
It means I can have an unpleasant interaction with someone and not assume that means “It’s better to avoid others.”
It means I can have some pretty rough days and not assume that means “I can’t do this anymore.”
I means I can have some pretty amazing days and not assume that means “Everything should be great from now on, and if it’s not, I’ve gone backwards.”
Insight allows us to see nuances in other peoples’ character and paves the way for greater forgiveness and a whole lot less bitterness.
It allows us to extend grace to others as well as ourselves, because the part rarely if ever informs the sum total.
(In the case of abusive relationships, feel free to extend grace and forgiveness from a safe and healthy distance. There are nuances within these nuances as well.)
Here’s my point:
Most of my poor/catastrophic decisions were made in situations where I only saw one or two options available. Satan loves to draw us into sharpie-outlined scenarios where our choices feel less like choices and more like inevitabilities.
But God offers wisdom to anyone who asks for it. And He can’t wait to give it to us.
5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.
James 1:5, NLT
My life is not defined by suffering any more than it’s defined by ease. My life – all of our lives – are a mishmash of indescribable shades and tones and subtleties.
I need constant reminders to pull myself out of binary thinking. Maybe these words will help someone else out there struggling with choices that feel inevitable.
You’re not alone. Pause. Ask God for insight. And wait for His answer. ❤