I’m Complex and I Know It
Even the most humdrum life is immensely complex. Suppose we were to view the life of an individual in narrative form and we wanted to tell the whole story, leaving nothing out. Just to make sense of it all, we’d have to divide our narrative into quite a number of subplots, and many of those subplots would be about things we usually take for granted.
Here’s an example that’s both mundane and vitally important—without it, we wouldn’t be able to function even for a day: we know how to get where we want to go. In other words, we know how to get to school or work or the mall, and when we arrive at those places we can find our way around unaided and return home unescorted. Like I said, that’s a competency that we take for granted, but we couldn’t survive in this society without it. We draw on not one but a cluster of skills at such times: our memory, our ability to read maps or follow others’ instructions, our proficiency at representing spatial locations in our minds, our sense of direction, our ability to recognize alternate routes if something blocks our path, and so on.
When we were very young, we couldn’t do any of these things. We developed these skills over a long period of time, and each milestone was a victory of personal independence. In other words, it was a subplot in our life history–and a circuitous one at that.
There are many other subplots like this one, in which we gained competencies that we now take for granted:
*There’s the story of how we learned to solve problems. We all have different approaches to problem-solving and we’ve arrived at our unique repertoire as a result of all the problems we’ve ever faced. In other words, that’s a subplot in our overall life history.
*There’s the story of how we learned to make and keep friends. Some of us form friendships easily while others have no idea how to meet people. Some have lots of casual relationships while others form close bonds with their friends. We’re all different, but we’ve all arrived at our particular habits the same way: as a result of all the friendships we’ve ever had. In other words, that’s a subplot in our overall life history.
Other subplots include (but are not limited to) the following:
*Our love of animals (or not)
*Our ability to manage our financial resources (or not)
*Our appreciation of and engagement with art, music, literature, or theater (or not)
*How we organize (or fail to organize) our immediate environment (our home, our office, our computer files, etc.)
*What we eat and drink
*How we maintain our physical and mental health
*Our curiosity about the world around us
I’ll stop here, but hopefully you get the point. We are who we are because of the entire story of everything we’ve ever said and done and thought up to this moment. A comprehensive recitation of that story would cover a wide variety of subplots, only some of which are listed above. Most of them would be too boring to gain a readership, but that’s not our concern. All these subplots are intertwined, and we are who we are because of the sum total of them all.
Okay. . . so why am I going on and on about this? Because, as I said last time, we are very good at filtering out what’s not immediately important to us. The result is that we filter out most of the subplots I’ve just mentioned. We lived through those subplots (and we’re still living through them now), but we don’t think about them. More to the point, we are who we are because of the sum total of all those subplots through which we’ve lived. So if we filter out those subplots, then we are ignoring a big part of who we are and of how we became this way.
In my first two posts, I invited you to consider whether God is interested in the secular things we do all day. Now I’m inviting you to see that we ourselves pay scant attention to such things. Nevertheless, these subplots have shaped us into the people we are, and they will continue to shape us into the people we will yet become.
The question I ask you to think about today is this: Does God patiently watch the unfolding of these intertwining subplots?