Using faith as my road map
Recently I was in New York City to make a presentation to some psychotherapists about research and evidence-based practice. My wife, Linda, was with me, and we both had a good time visiting with friends.
To get around in New York City you have to walk, and you have to navigate the intersections. There are lights on them directing both pedestrians and automobiles. While my wife if the kind of person who likes to get across to the other side as fast as possible (tending to ignore the lights and read the traffic flow), I don't mind waiting if it means not being turned into road kill by a speeding taxi. However, sometimes if you stand waiting for the light to tell you it's okay to cross, you might get run over by a herd of dashing pedestrians. So, I too began to read the traffic rather than the lights.
It's a daring thing to attempt to cross a busy New York City street. You look this way and that, and then you look back again. Then you check the other way once more, venture out, swing the head back and forth still, and speed up hoping some car does not appear from nowhere and run you down. I felt like a crazed animal at the side of a road that darts right out in front of your car. I could imagine someone going thump-thump over my body.
Go or no go. It extends beyond the problem of crossing a street. That ambivalence is present in other areas of life as well. Should I say what I'm thinking or just keep quiet? Should I quit this job now or wait for another? Should I ask this person to go out with me? Should I drink? Should I wear this shirt or that? Should I work out today or stay in bed? Should I? What if I don't?
Ambivalence is more than the inability to make a decision. It is being caught between two directions. People have described ambivalence as sitting on a fence, caught up there and unable to come down on one side or the other. In psychotherapy this is also known as an “impasse.” In the impasse, a person is stuck between wanting to move forward and make growthful change and wanting to remain where they have been, in what seems safe because it is familiar. However, the familiar is also often the dysfunctional. To move into growth would mean to risk moving into novelty, going somewhere a person has never been before, or feeling as if one is going there all by one's self. It can be terrifying.
When I was about ten years old, my younger brother and I got on our bicycles and pedalled about ten miles from our house out to a rural airfield called Phoenix Field. There are off-road trails there where people would drive their jeeps and dirt bikes, and we began riding our bicycles on them. We watched the aeroplanes take off and land, and we rode our bikes. It was great fun. We had never ridden that far from home before, and to get to Phoenix Field we had to ride down some busy streets than wound through the rural countryside. The novelty for us at that time was fun. It was an adventure. Of course that novelty and fun was not much fun for our mother, who did not know where we were and who totally freaked out when she found out what we had done. All she could think of was the disaster that could have happened, and we suffered her anxiety by being disciplined. Regardless, it was a great experience, and I'm glad we did it, even if we had to pay for it.
The point is that ambivalent people, people caught in the impasse, do not leap into the unknown and go on the adventure. They are too fearful. They are too conscious of what could go wrong or too conscious of what they might lose. They don't want the pain that often comes with growth.
This reminds me of the servant in the Bible who feared his master so much that he dug a hole and buried the resources the master had provided him, with the understanding that the servant would invest them in something and make a profit. The servant was too fearful of losing the resources and enduring the wrath of the master. As it turned out the master was not pleased with just getting his resources back as they had been given.
We only have one life. If a person is so timid that he or she buries that life in the effort to keep him or herself safe, attempting not to suffer loss, then that in itself IS the loss. To simply spend time is not to live. A comatose person on a respirator spends time. But is that really living? Many people would say it is not. I am not endorsing euthanasia; rather, I am simply saying that our time is limited. We only go around once. You cannot replay any point you've already lived. I cannot be twenty again (even if I wanted to be). So, given that I am going to die some day, and given that each moment is an opportunity to really live, my attitude is that I might as well go for it. I don't want to get to the end and regret not having lived because I was too timid to try. It takes faith to come down on one side of the fence.
That is what got me into seminary (I feel called to the ministry, Lord; should I go to seminary or not?). That is what got me into a pastorate (I feel I'm supposed to preach rather than be on a multiple staff, Lord; should I step out and accept a call to be the pastor of that church?). That is what got me into a doctoral programme in clinical psychology (I feel the need to retrain for another career, Lord; should I apply for a doctoral programme in clinical psychology?). That is what got me to Bermuda (I feel the need to give myself to you, Lord, to go anywhere and to do anything You might indicate; should I respond to this offer?).
Frankly, this is how I choose to live my life — always using faith to read the traffic and support me crossing the street. I don't want to waste my life in the impasse.