Standing in front of a display table of “Life Is Good” t-shirts, Amy said aloud to Rhea, “I think I just figured out my knee-jerk resistance to these t-shirts. It isn’t the whole picture. It doesn’t hold the paradox.” We are both psychotherapists. Our profession gives us the great honor of being in the trenches of life with people, as well as on the emotional mountaintops with them. We have to be able to hold paradox, both inwardly and in sessions with clients. We are called to be able to deal with what is real in a whole-hearted, intimate way. We cannot afford to be sentimental or dismissive. Sure, life is good in so many ways.
We believe that every moment is filled with the Holy. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning so beautifully states, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.” 1 Life can be rich, full, and fun. But week after difficult week, when Rhea walked around saying aloud, “Life is so messy,” we began to realize that we might try to offer a way to hold the paradox: Life is good and life is messy. Life can be and so often is hard, painful, confusing, even seemingly unbearable at times. An attitude of only “Life is Good” is sentimental, shallow, dismissive. While you are in a wonderful exhilarating moment of your life, a friend or family member may be in a serious crisis. While the economy of the US may be on the rise, there is genocide in another country. While you’ve ‘gone fishing’, a family is mourning the death of a child. Of course you can flip each of those statements around so that the messy part applies to you. As you know, when you are in a crisis, “Life is Good” doesn’t’ feel particularly compassionate. Life is messy, and you are in a mess right now. You don’t want it dismissed. You want it noticed. Acknowledged. Validated. So life is good, and life is messy.
What makes this cycle of life, the constant cycle of joy and sorrow, life and death, celebration and crisis, consolation and desolation manageable? How do we breathe in the marvelousness of life without forgetting the whole picture? How are we to embrace all of life without dismissing the messy parts or sentimentalizing the good times? There are skills and virtues we can all learn and acquire that help us through life. Skills like how to live in community, how to be a good friend, how to meditate and pray, and how to practice forgiveness. There are virtues that are learned by practicing these skills and disciplines. Virtues like patience, faith, compassion, kindness, tolerance, and gratitude.
Rhea and Amy continued the conversation. We spoke late into that evening, and off and on again over the course of a year. We often would leave a text or a phone message to each other that started with the words, “Life is messy,” and then continued to speak of whatever was going on in our lives or in the world. We would share things as wide-ranging as politics, religion, psychology, and personal issues. We kept coming back to the statement, “Life is messy,” knowing that there were ways we could deal with and manage the messiness that gave life a chance at being marvelous again.
As this blog was forming in our minds, we had the realization that the skills and virtues needed to deal with the messiness of life, the skills and virtues that make life manageable and marvelous, these are teachable skills. They are skills that we can learn and practice. And share with others.
It is our hope that this blog will be a helpful companion to you in your messy, marvelous life. You can use it alone and allow it to accompany you through the course of a year.. You can use the blog in groups, and it might be especially meaningful to groups that meet weekly as we will publish one blog/skill for each week of the year. You could use it with your partner, for good dinner conversation. You could use it with friends, to increase intimacy and vulnerability. However you decide to use this blog, we pray that it is a blessing to you and that you will learn more and more to hold the paradox of life with great equanimity. Life is Messy, Life is Marvelous. It just is.