Hurt & Faith

Weighing In

Weighing the peas. Calpatria, CA. Dorthea Lange, 1939

I’ve often been a swinging pendulum . . . an all or nothing kind of gal.

Throwing all my energy here and then way over there.  Terribly messy and then Mommy Dearest-clean. Totally opposed to something and then really excited about it . . . and then not, again. . .

But I’m fairly certain it’s better to live life more like a scale than a pendulum. Not the kind you step on. The kind that sat on the top of our piano in the 70’s “weighing out” bunches of plastic decorative grapes. The kind of scales “justice” holds while she covers her eyes.

But balance is hard. Truly. So, so much harder than swinging.

Balance means weighing my life, my time, my talents against my values. Balance means unloading things and saying no. Balance means loving people who are different from you and tackling hard conversations because they don’t share your standard of measure.

Balance is often misunderstood. Messy. Gray.

Pendulums swing through the muck of life and come out clean. Scales are in it. Measuring. Weighing. Thinking. Evaluating. Knowing there is a time to tip the scale, but carefully choosing to do it when it really matters.

* * * * *

I think a lot of us  seem to prefer the pendulum swing.

He’s totally wrong. He’s totally right. What I know is good. What I don’t know is bad. Agree. Disagree. Love it. Hate it. Black. White.

Shades of gray are uncomfortable. Shades of gray require messy conversations. Shades of gray mean sometimes appearing inconsistent. Shades of gray require balance.

And that is why we maintain a safe distance from people who struggle with problems decent people don’t have. We read about them in the news. We judge. We label.

The pendulum swings, side to side, in a rhythm of self-righteousness:

They are not like us.

We would never be like them.

They get what they deserve.

. . . but when you find that problem a decent person would never have in your house, in your friend, in your church, in yourself, you find that you have created a  simple machine — a culture, a church, a soul — that cannot process the paradox . . . so,  the pendulum keeps swinging, ignoring.

Hoping it will go away.

* * * * *

In the fall of 2004, when Dave was interviewing for the position at the camp, it was important to me that he tell his future employers about his struggle with addiction. So he did.

Do you have victory? They asked.

In Dave’s mind, he could control his addiction. He didn’t want to admit it was still a problem. And I didn’t know it was still a problem. I believed there was only failure or victory.

Well . . . yes. 

The response: Then we don’t need to hear about it.

Afterward, I would wonder about this response. Wonder what would have happened if the response had been more probing. More questioning. What are you doing about it? Who is keeping you accountable? What is your plan for when this job sucks the lifeblood out of you? Or if Dave had said, I still struggle. I need support.

But now, I marvel. At all sides. At the one who thought he could control a consuming addiction for the sake of his family. And at the one who seemed to think an addiction could be so quickly and easily swept away. And at myself, for swinging from the depths of despair into a dream.

* * * * *

As I was looking for a picture of balancing scales, it dawned on me that at some point in the advances of machinery, measuring value and worth became a rather quick job.

Once upon a time, back in the balancing days, people set the items onto one side of the scale and then, they carefully added and removed weights or coins onto the opposite side.

Somewhere, we lost the art of balanced measure.

Step onto the scale and in one glance we judge: Accepted. Rejected. Victor. Failure. Winner.  Loser.

Decent people don’t have these kinds of problems and therefore, as decent people, when they suddenly have this problem decent people don’t have, they will deal with it themselves swiftly and privately we won’t have to deal with the mess. With the gray. With the struggle.

The pendulum swings.

And we hide from it behind competence. Or piety. Or humor. Or goodness. Or badness.

Balance is hard.

Balance means sitting on the scale and letting the farmer point out my flaws while he measures my value.

And I hold my breath.

Because I’d rather swing.