Christianity is home to some of history’s greatest paradoxes*. Should we rely on Faith or Reason? Is Jesus fully God or fully man? Is God one or many in spirit?
Especially in my early 20s I was asking a lot of “either/or” questions.
Is it this? Or is it that? Should I do this? Or should I do that?
The impulse is reasonable, it comes from a desire for order, which is a good thing. We need ordered lives. But sometimes asking “which one?” locks you into a flawed answer. It creates a false dichotomy that picks one over another and misses a third way.
A response I discovered in my 30s is the beautiful “Both, and.”
Should we use faith or reason to guide us through life? Both, and in using right reason, we can defend objections to things we believe by faith. We do not need to abscond from right reason to have right faith. It’s both, and.
(There are actually 7 categories of how reason and faith can support each other. Here’s a good video explaining them.)
Is Jesus fully God or fully human? Both, and it is in this unique paradox that we can enter into a relationship with Christ. Had he not been fully man, he would not have known our trials or have been the pascal lamb, giving deliverance from our sins. Had he not been fully God, he would have no claim to be able to deliver us from sins. Our Savior is both God and man. It’s both, and.
Is God one in spirit or many? Both, and it is in understanding the singular omnipotent and omnipresent nature of God and the creative relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit that we see how God has been both with us through history and redeemed us through His creative Love. He always was and always will be, and I can talk to Him today. It’s both, and.
But what about the smaller paradoxes of our own lives? The ones that claw at the back of our minds when we feel like all the spinning plates are about to fall.
Should I have a career or be a good father? Does pursuing this business make me a lesser mother?
There is a very strong cultural narrative now that talks about balancing work and life. On the surface this makes sense, that you shouldn’t let one take away from the other. But if you go just a little deeper, we see that in the analogy of balance, there is the hidden idea that one drains the other. That if I have too much life, my work will be lesser. That work necessarily takes away from my life, that work drains life. This leads to many saying “I won’t do one, until I’ve conquered the other”. Many millenials are putting off having kids until they have established careers. It’s either/or response.
What if we see these questions, these paradoxes through the “both, and” lens of Christianity?
What if we seek an integrated life, rather than a balanced one?
The skeptic in me often asks “Should I be an entrepreneur and grow this business, or should I be a good father?”
Both. I am called to both. It’s not either/or, its both. And it is by stewarding these calls that I can be become the unique and unrepeatable “me” that God continues to create!
If I drop one in favor of the other, it won’t be a full response, because it won’t be fully me. When discerned well, work can be a way to respond to God.
I was talking about this with my wife, Helene. She is a brilliant physician. She is also an excellent mother. Which one should she be?
Both, and it is in being a mothering doctor that she can bring to her young patients a deep care for their trials and understanding for their parents. And it is in being a physician mom that she can show our kids what it means to make real sacrifices for others; to use the profound gifts God has given to us and to work on something good and difficult for others. It’s not either or, it’s both and.
Perhaps it is in being a mother that you can do your work with the unique gifts that only you have.
Maybe it is in pursuing your work that you can show your children how to participate in the continued creation of the world; that you can show them how to steward the gifts God has given them.
Certainly there are limits to this. Work can indeed suck the life from you. I’m not suggesting it can’t. I have had plenty of times where I was a worse, more impatient dad because of the stresses of my work. In one case it was so much stress that I left the job.
But I also know that the struggles of my work have made me a better father. I am more persistent, more optimistic, more focused because of the trials and opportunities in my work.
And becoming a dad has made me a better worker. I only ever realized I needed a tool like the CappaWork planner when we had kids and I couldn’t handle my assignments in my previous “go with the flow” attitude. Late night scrambles were fine in college, but they didn’t work when we had toddlers. I had to get organized. And with organization came better work.
This week, when the inevitable doubts rise within you; when the spinning plates begin to fall and you hear that doubting question “Which should you do???” try and answer with “both, and”.
There might be a hidden truth.
It might not be either/or.
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38
Even in tropical Okinawa, the air has begun to shift. The nights are cooler, the days are shorter. I wore a jacket today. The harvest is here. As we move into this time of Thanksgiving, I hope you hear your calls clearly. If you’ve been hearing two, it might be that you’re called to “both, and…..”
*This idea of paradoxes in our faith is beautifully explored and explained in Bishop Robert Barron’s “Vibrant Paradoxes”. Shoutout to him, that’s where I first heard the “both, and” answer.