This is the second part in a series called “Where is the Nuance Needed?” Click here for the first.
Our lives are filled with complication, pain, and endless half-truths that demand us to figure out how do we reconcile it all. This series of posts aims to identify and unpack the various places where appreciating the nuances isn’t just helpful to survive but in fact, nuance is actually life-giving. And the first place where we can look is within.
We need nuance in our inner life. In our mind, our heart, our prayers and hopes as we navigate our days that bombard us with a plethora of mixed messages as we try to make sense of this world and pursue a meaningful life.
Despite how simple we want to make it, life is unruly and unfairly too complicated. The problems, the proposed solutions, the arguments, the passion, and our hope can overwhelm, disempower and frustrate us.
Becoming more informed, reading, discussing, serving, and creating are helpful but none of these noble pursuits can bring us the arrival of conclusion and clarity we often search for. Our humanity has searched for solutions for ongoing personal and societal issues for thousands of years. Half our social media friends and personalities are screaming an answer, the books on our shelves and the new ones being promoted promise better answers and all our thinkers and communicators feel they have something to offer. God bless them all, but it’s a lot to process and many messages compete with one another.
This is why pursuing “nuance in our inner life” is needed.
Consider these prayers:
“God, confront the systemic racism and the bigotry of each heart, begin with mine.”
“Jesus, may you bring healing and justice for the abused and the harassed, and may you take down these evil-doers and powers that cause such pain.”
“Lord, how do we tackle the wide-spread corruption in our world?”
When we offer such prayers, there is not a singular solution that we expect God to deliver to us. There is an outcome we might like to see, but there’s also an outcome or a set of outcomes that we trust God is ultimately sovereign over. Regardless of our type of theology, eventually I believe we must do our best to yield to God and when we open our hearts in prayer and worship, we receive from God too.
Here are a few gifts we receive as we discover nuance in the inner life:
1. Nuance Confronts our Agenda
Re-centering our hearts in prayer, in worship, in the wisdom of Scripture confronts the various agendas around us which includes our own, the agendas of those we admire, helps us resist the agendas of the powerful, and the much subtler ones.
We might say something wonderful yet lofty like “No agenda but Christ’s!” But it would take a lot to figure out what this and isn’t. We would be wise to begin with the She’ma – loving God with all heart mind soul strength and love of neighbors (again Jesus points out the need for nurturing the inner life) but agenda, the vision of people around us, their message, their plan, our interoperation of them and the critiques and amendments that get thrown in, well, as mentioned, agendas are complicated.
But we all have an agenda, a worldview, a set of prescribed expectations that we’d like to see come to fruition. While they may not be inherently wrong or evil, they each need to be held up against the will of God and it’s in prayer that we say, “May your will be done, not mine.”
Speaking personally, this is where I have experienced much conviction between wanting a good thing and realizing that God might have actually something better. It may not be better for me however. In fact, it’s this confrontation of agenda where the truth emerges – I wanted this solved this way because it was good for me and … good enough for others.
It’s not that our agendas are always wrong. They’re not. It’s that we risk deluding ourselves in thinking that we are always right. That our own thoughts and opinions are nearly infallible and that could lead to a very damaging and hindering sense of pride.
Our agendas need confronting and our hearts need to be yielded to God’s will. Prayer, worship, fasting, reading Scripture and the many disciplines are essential practices here.
2. Nuance Brings Focus
Once personal agenda is confronted, new ways of understanding can be brought into focus.
Focus is an over-used term but yet the moment of focus is such a beautiful experience. To see something clearer, to experience something fuller, to know something deeper.
We have each said this numerous times, “I’ve always known this but now I’m experiencing it in a richer way. Don’t know how I missed it before …”
Or perhaps try this the next time you pray: Take an issue you are passionate about, then take an alternative position that you don’t really think would work. And in that prayer, ask God if this is something or someone He can use. This is both a liberating and miserable experience.
God, can you use this proposed solution to help the poor? Is it possible the “other side” might have a solution that could work better than mine or my “tribe’s?” When it comes to political issues, this is in part why some of us do our best to avoid aligning ourselves with one political party or label over another. No party, no side, no label has a monopoly on the truth but more on that another time.
The focus we receive from prayer isn’t typically that one solution becomes the silver bullet but rather something better. That God is sovereign, that God is able, that you will be ok whatever God does or does not do. Not because you and those you care about are immune to the pain, but because God is with you and God is with them.
For the problems and pains of the world, we want more. I get it. We want the vaccinations for preventable and treatable diseases in third world contexts. We want adequate nutrition, clean water, shelter, safe passage, discrimination and harassment free contexts, we want education and basic needs and fundamental human rights for the marginalized. I desperately want this and much more too as we all want the suffering to end! But may we also be reminded that God’s presence can be with all those who suffer, even those whose poverty is not material or obvious and this reality, this gift, is an essential part of life as well.
For me, this is a truth that emerges sharper and shaper the more I pray. God cares about this, God cares about them. And God loves them over there too. That’s easy to miss but prayer has a way of helping us see that clearer.
3. Nuance Builds Fortitude
If there is a word that has meant more and more to me over the years, it’s the idea of “fortitude” – that inner strength that not only protects the heart but allows us to persevere and continue on mission.
Indeed the world is overwhelming. There are crisis that appear unsolvable and yet we feel inspired to serve the ones that suffer – this is noble but it’s also heartbreaking.
To serve others, to pursue justice for another, to seek the common good without seeking the fortitude of God risks your own spiritual and mental health (among other things). Fortitude is what keeps in check our growing cynicism. Fortitude is what acts as both a wall to our hope and a generator of our action. It’s both a wall and a catalyst.
We use this “inner strength” to both resist evil and to act justly. And we need nuance in our inner life to discern the differences, to recenter us, and to help us continue the long journey. Along the way, we may experience God’s deep wisdom that a prayerful heart draws from. There are moments of clarity that God gives and this consistent rhythm of prayer brings us closer to meaning, truth and beauty. Which in part, informs identify and empowers us for mission.
Much more can and should be said and as we consider the nuances of life, let us also be reminded time and time again what happens when we pray with open hands and wide conclusions to a God who is more loving that we can realize and understands more than we can imagine.
The next post takes aim at the need for nuance in our relationships, near and far, in person and with the avatars and profile pics we see. After that, we’re looking at nuances in our perspectives and in the issues facing our world. Appreciate you reading, feel free to interact in comments or private messages or of course, in more personal ways. Grace and peace, Tim.