In a post from this past Sunday, Christine at BlissChick gave us this line from Thomas Merton,
The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.
Christine carries her readers through a consideration of all the ways that we are so overcome by Christ’s example. Because he was too compassionate, loving , tolerant, we immediately give up on following his examples and teachings. We are mere limited mortals; it’s no use to even attempt to be so virtuous as the Son of God.
When I started to think about her post and this quotation, I took the idea in a direction I had been thinking about for a while: the ways in which we simultaneously overestimate and underestimate the strength of our bodies and our spirits. A few conversations I have had over the last few days bring me to look at Merton’s wisdom in a completely different light, however.
I’ve talked before about the realization that everyone carries around his or her own universe. If we are ready to recognize that everyone we meet is as complex and nuanced as ourselves with their own childhood hurts and age old karma, buried hurts and secret needs, then we have to reset the way we look at everyone who crosses our path. We don’t have to love everyone or pretend we approve of their actions. We just have to realize that the reasons and impulses that drive people’s behavior can be as numerous as the stars in the sky and that we are never going to comprehend the full extent of their “this is why.”
With that in mind, I look to Merton’s quote and think not of the baffling behavior of those we can keep at arm’s length. I am thinking about the ways that we relate to the people closest to our hearts, those we love the most whom we are supposed to understand the best.
In a number of unrelated situations, I have been offered a glimpse into some of deepest stories of my dearest companions. Suddenly bit of their characters fell into place when they described their choices and their fears that had previously been inexpressible. Not only do I think it was cathartic for them to talk through their perspectives, but I felt honored and blessed to be given the chance to understand them better.
How often do we settle for knowing too little of the interior worlds of those we love? How often do we just throw up our hands and say things like “I love him, but he is just impossible to get through to when it comes to X”? How often do we just choose to hear only what we expect them to say?
I am not saying that we should push our way into corners of others’ souls where we might not be welcome. I am instead suggesting that we walk into our relationships with hearts and minds open and ask ourselves if we are settling for too little of the brilliance and intricacy of our friends and family.
We’ll never be able to take up residence in a brother’s body to really see the world the way he does, but why do we then quit trying to understand and pretend to be content with the stories that we’ve made up about his life? It is a slow and unpredictable process, this discovering the innermost alcoves of people we are supposed to know like the backs of our own hands, but it can only lead to deeper connections and truer recognition of the miracles they are.
We may find secret and unexpected places, but under the guidance of compassion and love, so few stones will be too scary to overturn.
There is certain wisdom in the recognition that we are not our stories (thanks Brandi!), but we cannot abandon someone who still needs our help with the untangling of the loose threads that mar the tapestry of her life.