There are two types of crummy situations in life, I think. We could call the first Total Pandemonium. We have no idea how to get out. Sometimes, the fog of possible options is so thick we can’t see our hand in front of our face. Other times, we cannot see any way out. We feel lost, stuck, abandoned.
Total Pandemonium is no picnic. But Dilemma #2, I think, can be harder.
Let’s call Dilemma #2 The Red Pill.
Because I only saw The Matrix this year(I know, right?), I’ve politely nodded my way through many a baffling Matrix reference, so I’ll explain. When our hero Neo meets his mentor, the all-knowing Morpheus, Morpheus tells him that the world as Neo knows it is a total sham. Morpheus hands Neo two pills. Take the blue pill, he says, and you’ll go back to your old life of blissful ignorance. Take the red pill, and you’ll learn the truth. The trouble is, once you take the red pill, you can never un-learn that truth. You can never go back.
(This now concludes my attempts to explain science fiction. I will never try that again. I’ll remind myself of this when I want to use “There is no spoon.”)
All that is to say that, in Red Pill dilemmas, we already know the way out. Somewhere along the line – whether it was by a moment of sudden clarity, or a slow dawning of realization – we realized what we need to do. And we can never go back to not knowing. Even if that way out is hard, long, or controversial, the truth has seized us and will never let us go.
It seems like time to come down from the theoretical clouds and into the gritty mess of everyday life.
I’ve been filling my well with many beautiful things lately. Trips to bookstores, outdoor festivals with friends, new vanilla chai tea that tastes like autumn in a cup. Life is so very beautiful. And so often this beauty is right in front of us, just waiting for us to make a small choice to go out and find it.
Sometimes, though, it feels a little harder. Sometimes, we see the faint light that joy and beauty cast, but out past a swamp and a briar patch. It’s the Red Pill, though. We know it’s there; we’ll never not know it’s there. But we have to go through the swamp and the briar patch.
One of my Red Pill dilemmas hit me yesterday, hard. I’ve recently moved back to my hometown to be with family. (This, in itself, is a giant Red Pill dilemma, but I’m being gentle with myself and taking bite-size pieces here). Part and parcel of this move was going back to my hometown church. Now, I love these people dearly. They did nothing short of raising me and buoying me through the rough patches of my youth. They are, hands down, some of the most beautiful people I know. But going to this church lately has felt like putting on a scratchy, ill-fitting sweater. It used to be your favorite, and you keep putting it on in hopes that it will fit, but your body has changed.
(I get a little anxious bringing up faith. Society has mangled this tender expression of our deepest souls into a prickly, divisive issue that wrenches people apart. My hope is not to make Big Theological Proclamations here, only to speak my own lived experience and give others space to speak theirs).
I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my life to have found a series of joy-filled, welcoming faith communities. I count my hometown church among these. In college and after college, I found other vibrant, creative churches along the way. I don’t believe they were “better” or “worse” than any other community. I think that my soul simply recognized a missing piece of itself in those spaces that it needed to continue growing and thriving.
So, when I came back to my home church, I was startled to discover that my soul had done some stretching and changing, and this place no longer fit. This was terribly inconvenient, and also very sad. This town and this church have long been synonymous, for myself and my family. It is filled with people I love, and people who would be hurt and confused if I left.
But it’s the Red Pill. Damnit.
Yesterday, I took that first step toward the faint, pulsing light beyond the swamp. I went to two services at different times: one at my home church, and one at a new church. Besides weddings and funerals, I had never been to a different church in this town. I was a little unsteady. Okay, I was a lot terrified. I don’t know that this new place will be where I end up. I’ll probably need to do the hard work of searching more. But I began to trek across the swamp.
Sometimes filling the well doesn’t look pretty at first. But once we know what we need to do, once we’ve swallowed the Red Pill, it’s going to scratch us like a clothing tag until we take action. We’ll need to be gentle and forgiving with ourselves along the way (remember, we’re training). We’ll need to learn how to look for small joys on the journey. Often, we need encouragement. But above all, we need small steps toward that faint light of joy.
There is no spoon.
Nope, didn’t work.
Love and blessings in filling your well.