Hey I have a great idea. Let’s lead out of the season of love and cheer with an attempt at a little bit of love and cheer.
(This is where you’re supposed to shout “hey cool let’s do that!” Or close the tab. It’s really up to you.)
So my very cool friend wrote a very cool blog post the other day, summarizing the year 2016 with the word “divided,” touching briefly on the chaos happening all around the world, and then wrapping it all up by saying (in essence) “Despite all of this brokenness, I will choose to celebrate humanity rather than dwell on all of our faults” and then saying (exact quote here) “Hope lives in spite of pain.”
Wow, right? Good message, good delivery, the whole nine yards. *insert shameless plug for my friend's blog here* But because I am me and therefore must argue with everything, I'm going to go ahead and disagree with his very first premise.
Because here’s the thing. He is right that we’re divided. I’ve only lived on this earth for twenty years (which isn’t a lot, but it’s enough), and I’ve never seen the kind of hatred that people are spewing at each other right now for the smallest of things. Things that on a good day wouldn’t even be noticeable. Things that should never, ever determine how we treat each other. For pity’s sake, we can’t even disagree with each other without metaphorically and literally tearing each other to shreds. It breaks my heart.
But before we all get caught up in too much sadness, let me pull in a conversation that I had with a professor this semester. For multiple reasons irrelevant to this post, I had a struggle with depression this semester, and it got to the point where it was getting in the way of school, so I went to go talk to an amazing professor who I really admire and who has been very open about his struggle with depression. I told him what was going on and how I was feeling, he told me (in so many words) that I was probably experiencing depression due to my tendency to take responsibility for every single problem of every single person around me, and then he said something that I will never forget until the day I die.
“The world is a broken place, full of pain and suffering. And the world is a beautiful place, full of life and joy. You have to learn how to hold these two things together in your hand at the same time, and it’s not easy, but it’s life.”
And he’s not wrong. Life is really just one huge paradox filled with example after example of things that shouldn’t make any sense at all but somehow still do, or things that shouldn’t exist but somehow still do. In the midst of brokenness, there is still beauty, and it is vital for us to stop and recognize that beauty.
This past semester, I had a very close friend tell me that he was dangerously close to suicide a few months past – in the planning stage, in fact. And then maybe one month later, the same friend told me that it struck him how extremely precious the simple concept of life is. How fortunate are we that we are still alive? I imagine this idea has more credence given the recent deaths of many beloved celebrities, and I’m going to specifically use Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in this example. These two were childhood heroes to many people I know, and the loss of their lives have been greatly mourned. This in and of itself is perhaps not notable, but what has struck me is how people have come together to mourn. Sure, it wasn’t Aunt Carrie and Grandma Debbie, but we humans have an inherent value and love for life, and we especially mourn the deaths of those who touched our lives in one way or another.
To those of you who would prefer to skip over this year and pretend it simply never happened: trust me, I completely understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t think that’s the solution. There’s a season for everything, and really crappy times can teach us something, even if it’s just how not to act. It’s my personal opinion that this year was as beautiful as it was broken because that’s just how life works, but I can also understand if you don’t think that. But if nothing else, this past year was a part of the life we value so much, life that we should value even more in honor of those who died.
And perhaps we’ll discover that we are more similar to each other than we’d like to think, even in our divisiveness. We all enjoy good friendship and real laughter. We all cried at the end of Rogue One when literally everyone dies. And while we will probably always disagree on the methodology of politics, at the end of the day we all want the same thing. We just want to be safe and happy and loved and to take care of our loved ones as best we can. We just have different ways of going about it.
I’m certainly not trying to get you to forget all the brokenness that happened this year. By all means, remember the bad stuff, get mad about it, and then change it. But you have to love the world in order to change it. Theologian G.K. Chesterton said that we need to hate the world enough to change it, and yet love the world enough to think it worth changing. I’m not trying to convince you to love this year because it was secretly a blessing in disguise the entire time, although you’re certainly welcome to see it as such. I just don’t want us to write off the entire year as being such a spectacular disaster that we’ll never speak of it again. Life is beautiful and all too fragile, as we’ve discovered. It can’t just be thrown away like that. We are worth so much more.
I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.