Living in a both-and world

by Kristin on March 26, 2013

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by 1wan

I confess, I’m prone to falling into the either-or trap. So often, I seem to think I have to choose, and to sacrifice something in the process.

When I look at an evening that lies ahead of me, I ask, “Do I want a fun evening, a relaxing evening, or a productive one?”

Parenting philosophies often seem to be either-or, as well. Do I want to communicate compassion or firmness as I parent my child through this situation?

And then there’s the never-ending debate about how to go about this thing we call “work,” which consumes about half of our waking hours. Do I want creative freedom and financial uncertainty, or financial certainty and less satisfying work?

Before I met Jason, when I was a single mom of two young children, I was absolutely certain I’d have to prioritize and sacrifice my list of ideal traits in a man. Here’s how I described my perceived predicament in an essay I wrote for the anthology Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On.

I began to systematically think through which dream-man requirements I could do without. Maybe a Christian guy who’s not a whole-heck-of-a-lot-of-fun? Someone who’s smart and fun, but agnostic? Or smart and successful, but scared to death of kids? Handsome and great with kids, but not too bright? I didn’t want to sacrifice anything, but I just knew I’d be forced to, in light of my limiting circumstances.

In other words, I certainly couldn’t expect to “have it all.” “Too good to be true” seemed like wise words of caution. The world, I had discovered, was a rough place, not a dreamland. And I, as I also discovered, wasn’t so special. I didn’t deserve any Get Out of Jail Free cards—I was going to have to “make the best of things,” just like everyone else.

Yes, the world gives us all those well-worn phrases I used in the previous paragraph. They’re phrases meant to put us in our place. They keep us from hoping too much and falling too hard when things inevitably fall apart. And I have bought into them, to some extent.

But I read an article last week that jolted me back into another reality I’ve known. At first glance, the article doesn’t seem to have anything to do with any of this. Titled “What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success,” I was drawn to the article simply because I care about the education system and am always wondering what is needed to make it better. What I read there, however, surprised me, sparking a whole new line of thinking: “The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.”

Immediately upon reading that, this thought entered my mind: The world, when it’s at its best, functioning in the way it was created to function, is not an either-or world, it’s a both-and world. It’s a place where doing what’s right—valuing equality—puts everything back in balance in a way that allows everyone to benefit and thrive, to be their best. It’s a world where some don’t have to be left behind in order for others to get ahead.

Now, this thought (like most thoughts that arrive in my mind like the delivery of a parcel all tied up with string) is more guttural than intellectual. I haven’t run it through multiple scenarios, testing it out in various realms of life before presenting it to you. But I do believe, in my heart and soul, that there’s another way to experience this world, where we don’t have to accept either-or as the foundational format. The both-and world is just as real.

I can say it’s just as real, because I’ve experienced it in my life—in fact, I’ve experienced it in every one of the scenarios I shared at the beginning of this post. Even though I have lost hope and bought into an either-or way of thinking more times than I can count, I have also been presented with this other way the world can work, when I’m feeling enough courage and faith to open myself up to the possibility. I have seen how the best approaches to parenting combine compassion and firmness in ways that my daughters respond to—when it’s done right, they both learn more about life and feel more loved by me. I’ve watched how my writing career, as a freelancer, can simultaneously engage me creatively and support me financially. And then there’s Jason, my life’s biggest and best reminder that I don’t have to sacrifice what’s right and best, that I don’t have to accept a world of either-or.

Yes, this world is broken, and it demonstrates that brokenness to us at every turn. And yes, we can’t understand how God works—why we are given these tastes of heaven on earth in some moments, and not in others. But I believe God designed the world to be a both-and world, where we can work together to achieve goodness and balance and beauty for everyone. Can we think of this together, as we move through the week toward Good Friday and Easter? After all, Easter is the ultimate story of God’s love at work in a both-and world, broken yet full of promise.

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  • Brenda W.

    This is amazing, and really timely for me. Thank you!

    • kt_writes

      Thank you, Brenda! It was timely for me too—to reconsider and learn again this important thing I’ve known before about hope and how God works.

  • Sam Van Eman

    I enjoyed this reflection, Kristin. Have a happy, both-and, Easter.

    • kt_writes

      I’m glad it resonated with you, Sam. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Emilee Shake

    But living in the either-or world is so much safer than the both-and world! :) This line struck a chord with me: “…when I’m feeling enough courage and faith to open myself up to the possibility.” Thanks for the reminder.