I have a complicated relationship with alcohol. I didn’t grow up with it at all. Never even had a sip until after I was married.
Being married to an alcoholic for 20 years, you would think I would despise it and never have it around. But, it’s not alcohol’s fault. And I am still a foodie and a chef, so I do keep it around. Nothing better than a mimosa on Christmas morning, a bloody Mary at brunch, or an Old Fashioned with friends. I have been drunk exactly three times in my whole life and have no desire to ever do that again. There is context and nuance to my relationship with alcohol. I tread carefully, but also joyfully. (Also, fully realizing that for some people it is too complicated a relationship and so they have to cut it out of their life. The analogy still holds.)
It’s like a lot of other things with which I have a complicated relationship. Things about which maybe I could (or should?) be more salty, jaded, and weary but which instead, I just accept as complicated. Some things won’t become uncomplicated just because I wish they were simple. Some things have to be accepted exactly as they are and loved for what they are. That love might be returned; it also might not. The choice to stay in a complicated place with them is mine. Maybe only “until they become wide and worthy of you…” (Rilke)
I am not salty about romantic love, even though I have not actually experienced it. I love love. Not with a desperation that I have to have it. But rather like watching it from afar the way one does exotic animals at the zoo or great art protected by glass and velvet ropes. I am glad it exists and celebrate it.
I am not jaded about men, even though my history with them has not shown me a great (or shall we say accurate) picture of masculinity. I believe in the strength, beauty, and necessity of masculinity in our world. When I do see it, I cheer it down to my soul. I don’t have to posses it or be possessed by it. It’s complicated, right?
I am not weary about friendship, even though I have come to realize what an asshat I have been to friends in the past. It helps me to bear a little more patiently when friends are asshats to me. I know what I was, what I am, and what I aspire to be. It’s an incomplete picture of heaven, of course, but I believe that nine times out of ten phileo trumps eros. When Jesus called his disciples friends and not servants, I can only imagine how their hearts must have leapt and ached all at once. Because I have felt a little bit of that when someone I greatly admired called me a friend.
Our minds love labels. We love to sort things into tidy little boxes. Some do this by astrological signs, personality types, temperaments, the enneagram, genders, political parties, or buzzfeed quizzes to find out what kind of potato chip you are. But people are complicated, with greater backstories than any comic book multiverse. To not run, but to stay in complicated conversations with complicated people is both a challenge and a grace. Running is easy. Closing doors and cutting people/jobs/vocations/religion/doctrines out of your life because they make you uncomfortable is not the way of courage. I know. I’ve taken that easy road most of my life. The road might seem easier. The destination is a hovel.
We have these eternal souls dependent on an eternal God, complex enough to understand the intricacies and transcendent enough to see how simple our need for love and connection is. He understands our fear of complicated spaces, but also our need for those same complicated spaces to make us fit for heaven.
There is an Eastern Christian view of eternity that goes like this: everyone returns to God in the end, because nothing whatsoever can exist outside of God. Whether that end is heaven, hell, or purgatory depends how your soul is disposed to enjoy the presence of God.
We are complicated. But that view is pretty simple. Maybe focusing on the eternal soul being ready for the full presence of God makes the complications of earthbound life a little easier to perceive.
“You are heaven’s handmade calligraphy
Slumming it among papyrus fonts
You are the complete and perfect works
Of a perfect and eternal poet laureate
With a laundry list of identity issues
And sometimes your plumbing don’t match your urges
But your femininity it forced a force field that protected our posterity
Your masculinity, it mustered up moxey
To conquer mountains for our families
You are the rightful heirs to not just a kingdom
But a universe and you have your daddy’s eyes
Stop being so traitorous
You are Revelation revealed
Pyramid constructors, conductors, conduits of lightning
Yet you speak and you breathe arsenic carcinogenics
And it causes car sickness
These scars are our witness
To love hard is hard living, but it’s life
It’s who you are
It’s messy and uncomfortable
But so is a star, and parenting, childbirth, and love
There are so many things about which I tread carefully, yet joyfully. The older I get the more I realize that this complicated life is not going to be reduced to a set of formulas that make it easy. My heart will always be restless (until it rests in him, as Augustine says) and searching for a tidy box and label in an attempt to uncomplicate things. But it just doesn’t work that way. It never will.
I have a sense that getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and finding the simplicity of an act of trust in the middle of complicated situations is essential on the journey of sanctity. Our companions on the journey into God’s eternal presence are often doubt, rejection, sadness. But, we needn’t walk with regret. Felix Culpa.
“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as a the process by which faith deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.
What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.” (Flannery O’Connor)
So, as I sit here, sipping a little locally crafted gin and thinking through the complicated things of this life with which I am blessed, I am going to do something really simple: cuddle one or two of my kids, read some poetry, watch some Superman, and remember that ”to love hard is hard living…it’s messy and uncomfortable and complicated, but so is a star…and us.”