Every day, I find myself confronted with situations I am powerless to fix. I would like to make things right; I want to heal the brokenness of the world and set the universe on a smoother course towards everyone’s happiness and fulfillment. But, again and again, I confront the extraordinary limitations of my ability to make things better.
On bad days I convince myself that if only I were smarter, more skilled or more talented, or if only I worked harder, then I would be more proficient at repairing the plethora of broken situations I encounter.
I long for life to be like a car. When it does not work, you take it to a mechanic. The mechanic analyzes the trouble, orders the necessary parts, and corrects the problem. Your car is fixed. You pay the bill and drive away happy.
The beauty of a car is that each part in the motor has its place and its prescribed function. Every automobile operates in basically the same way. When each piece is doing its job as it was designed, the machinery runs reliably.
But life is not an automobile. The world does not operate according to a simple set of clearly prescribed formulas. People are not machines made up of easily replaceable parts that can be changed when something breaks down. There are no standard procedures guaranteed to work in every dysfunctional human dynamic. There is no recipe for creating communities that run as smoothly as well-tuned automobiles. Anything involving people is hedged in on every side by enormous complexities and unpredictable twists and turns.
So, everyday I am forced to acknowledge the limitations of my ability to make right that which seems so wrong.
Perhaps the problem is with the word “wrong”. What benefit does it serve to label a human reality as “wrong”?
What do I hope to accomplish by judging a situation as “wrong”?
At the very least, when I identify something as “wrong”, I feel I have done something. I have pointed out the brokenness of the world. My guilt is slightly mitigated by my self-righteous condemnation of the wrongs that I see.
Having named a situation as “wrong,” I hope I will then be motivated to make it right. If I can make myself feel bad enough about all the pain I see, perhaps I will feel compelled to do something. Or perhaps I will be able to motivate others to take actions that I feel unable, or unwilling to perform.
The problem is that I am powerless to fix the “wrong” that I see. So, “wrong” simply becomes a source of pain, guilt, and anguish more likely to produce paralysis than life-giving action.
Situations simply are what they are. Life is dysfunctional. Most things do not operate smoothly. Human relationships are always challenging.
The challenge of difficult, unpleasant, confusing, and troubling situations is to open to them, to see them clearly, and to acknowledge my place in those situations. It is only with this clear-eyed honesty and willingness to see reality that I begin to become able to respond to the painful situations that cross my path with the kind of energy that has the potential to create openness for new possibilities to emerge.
The judgment that something is “wrong”, or “bad”, or needing to be fixed, closes doors and hinders my ability to enter compassionately into the reality of the situation with which I am confronted.
Judgments and labels make it more likely that I will respond from my preconceived notions and prejudiced perceptions. I see less clearly when I start from a place of judgment. The less clarity I have, the more I am likely to create further confusion and greater chaos.
Life-giving responses emerge from openness and acceptance.
I am not called to be a judging fixit man. I am called to be an opening man. I am called to listen and to wait patiently.
The world needs people who create space for life to emerge more than it needs people who rush forward with simple answers and perfectly packaged solutions. I need to hold those messy complicated realities that defy easy resolution, bearing the pain of reality with a deep abiding trust in the goodness at the heart of life.