Life is just so full of ambiguity.
At any given moment, including this one, at least one of the seven billion or so people on this planet is experiencing sheer joy. Elation. They’ll probably look back on this moment as the best in their life. A turning point where everything changed for the better. A positive health report. A promotion at work. A hard-fought breakthrough in a relationship. There is always something amazing happening in the world around us.
However, at the same time—in that exact same moment—someone else out there is facing the end of the world as they know it. Utter tragedy. This is the moment that they’ll spend forever trying to forget. And if they ever have the strength to look back on it, they will only be able to do so somberly. Disappointment. Betrayal. Loss. All of these things are taking place in our world, too.
And these two extremities of life, the high and the low, they coexist at all times. They pop in and out of our individual lives in varying degrees, but they are always present somewhere. In some unexplainable way, our world—our very existence—makes room for both the greatest of human triumph and the heaviest of human suffering.
We each know this to be true. Who among us hasn’t experienced both times of joy and times of grief in the course of our lives? But even as we do, we still struggle to reconcile the good with the bad.
Acknowledging and accepting this ambiguity that is so foundational to human experience is no easy task. And to be honest, I’ve been grappling with it recently.
I am so thankful for my life. God has blessed me in ways that I could never possibly deserve. I am content, I am fulfilled, and I am happy. I have so much to be thankful for, and I see so much good in my life and in the lives of those around me.
But when I look around, I see others, including people I love, who are suffering terribly. Some are grieving loved ones. Some are struggling to find their purpose or even just to survive. And I wonder: How could all of these things possibly be happening at the same time?
How can I be happy when some of my fellow human beings are despondent? Who am I to enjoy the good that others can’t experience right now? Why does there always have to be both?
Sometimes, it almost feels like too much.
In Ecclesiastes, Quohelet expresses his exasperation with life in this way: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (1.2, NKJV). I’m not quite to that point, at least not yet. But I have come up with my own way of expressing my discomfort with the ambiguity I see around me. Here’s how I put it:
Life is good, but it’s also a lot.
I like to think that life overall is a good thing. We can each find fulfillment and joy in this life, and we each have opportunities to leave a mark and make the world a better place for others. But in the midst of all that good, there’s a good deal of bad mixed in. And when it all comes together, it’s a lot to handle.
It’s not even that life is overwhelming, though it sometimes can be. But even when it’s not more than we can bear, life is still confusing because of its ambiguous nature. Because it’s messy. Because it’s never just one way or the other. There will always be good and bad in life, and thus, life will always, always be a lot.
As I consider the suffering around me, I think about the times in my life when I’ve experienced pain. I will never fully know the pain of others because I am not them, just as they are not me. And the amount of privilege I’ve been given shields from certain types of suffering that others endure on a daily basis. But regardless, I have known pain in my own way, and when I consider it, I realize something important.
The bad things I’ve experienced in my life do nothing to diminish the joy I feel when life is good. In the same way, the good things don’t stop me from hurting deeply when the bad times come. These two can coexist because they do not infringe on one another. Each leaves the other be, and we need both if we are to experience a full life.
A full life doesn’t shy away from either the good or the bad. We enjoy the highest of highs, but we also endure the lowest of lows. And in accepting both, we learn from them. We grow. We become better because of them, not in spite of them. And through it all, we are able to make the world better for someone else as a result of what we’ve been through.
Because the truth is that no matter where we find ourselves in life, there will always be elements of both good and bad. If we choose to develop the maturity to recognize and become comfortable with both, we’ll be much more well-equipped to handle the things that life throws at us.
I made a commitment long ago that no matter what I was feeling, good or bad, I would always allow myself to feel it fully without suppressing or denying it. When things are good, I am happy. And when they are not, I don’t force myself to pretend to be so.
That is not to say that I don’t regulate my emotions and behaviors to keep myself healthy and appropriate; I do. But I also don’t deny myself the ability to feel what I’m feeling at any given time because in that moment, I need to feel it.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever fully make peace with the ambiguity of life, but I’m trying. It helps to know that no matter how much bad I see in the world or even experience in my own life, there is always good out there, too. Learning to appreciate the good while accepting the bad in my life and being sensitive to the bad in others’ lives is something I’m always working to do. Maybe you’ll find it helpful, too.
Life is good, but it’s also a lot. May we each recognize that, accept it, and live our lives to the fullest. Thanks for reading, friends.