Is the glass half empty or half full? We all know that this is not really a question. It is a metaphor. It is an enquiry into a person’s perspective. Are they optimistic or pessimistic? This metaphor is applied to myriads of situations from the state of the world or country or economy or business to the state of our physical health and intimate relationships.
Yet there is something quite obvious about a half full or half empty glass of water that the metaphor seems to encourage us to miss. That is, if it is one, it is also the other. It is both. Pick one, any one and the other is there staring back at us. A glass half full is by definition also half empty and vice versa. I wonder if reminding ourselves of this may not deepen and complicate our perspective in mature and enriching ways. This is not to suggest that every situation is balanced equally by opposites. Far from it. Remember this is a metaphor and not real life. Nevertheless, this is a simple invitation for a more blended and less binary way of seeing things.
Most importantly I wonder if keeping this in mind may free us to honour all our feelings associated with any given situation. Freeing us to feel paradoxical feelings. Joy and sadness. Resentment and gratitude. Anger and calm. Faith and doubt. We can be devastated with shock and grief while also celebrating the beauty that is revealed in this new landscape of vulnerability. The one does not deny or undermine the other. They can both be. Because they both are.
I was reminded recently that “numbing is not an exact surgery”. Meaning, to ignore or block or numb a particular feeling causes other feelings to be cauterised in the process. Strangely, feelings very different to the intended numbed feeling are affected. Sometimes the very feeling we want to protect is the primary casualty. For example, to numb all feelings of sadness may end up robbing us of joy.
To honour all our feelings does not mean we must follow them or act on them. It simply means that we feel them. In fact, denying them may cause us to be more determined by them, yet unknowingly so. To respect our feelings we tune into them, as we do to the different members of an orchestra. In the very least acknowledging them, if not always appreciating their presence.
There is a “half-full type of Christianity” that insinuates that believers are meant to be “half-full kind of people”. That “true faith” blocks out doubt. That “joy in the Lord” removes all sadness. In short, the worship of happiness. Often this is encouraged by the overwhelming bias towards happy hymns that are sung on a Sunday compared to songs of protest and lament. Songs that demand justice. Songs with more questions than answers. Songs found in the hymnbook of scripture, like the set psalm for today: “How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Psalm 13)
For this reason, we are reminded every Sunday in our “Benediction of Disturbance”: May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that we may live from deep within our hearts.
With grace, Alan