My daughter started Second Grade this week. One of the Second Grade teachers, Ms. C., was also her Kindergarten teacher, so of course my daughter was hoping to be assigned to Ms. C for Second Grade as well. When we received the notice that her Second Grade teacher would be someone different, this news was met with disappointment. The morning of the first day of school, I asked her if she was nervous, and said that she was. "But the good news is that I will be in the same class as some of my friends," she said brightly. When she named these friends, however, I knew from conversations with their parents that they were not in the same class as my daughter.
I was perplexed about my daughter's misunderstanding of this situation. After some thought, though, I realized that her thinking surrounding Second Grade was purely binary. There were, in her mind, only two classes, spaces, realities, experiences, or realms of Second Grade - Ms. C's Class, and Not Ms. C's Class. It had never crossed her mind that there could be more than two possible ways of experiencing Second Grade. In her thinking, anyone who was in the realm of Not Ms. C's Class would, therefore, be in the same Class as she. In my parental wisdom - or perhaps just cowardice - I decided not to disillusion my nervous daughter about this and let the situation sort itself out when she got to school. I felt like the news that these friends might not actually be in her Class - the much-dreaded Not Ms. C's Class - would just be too anxiety producing on the morning of the first day of school. Not surprisingly, my daughter came home from school happy and excited. The day had gone wonderfully and she loves her new teacher. All is well and shall be well in Second Grade, even though my daughter's very understanding of the reality of the situation was limited to the point of being false.
It would be easy to dismiss her binary thinking as childish, to say that her understanding of the Second Grade Universe as being limited to Ms. C's Class and Not Ms. C's Class was silly. But how often do we, as adults, similarly limit our understanding and think in binary terms, dividing the universe or parts of our lives - even our hopes and dreams - into categories such as The Way I Want Things To Be and Not The Way I Want Things To Be. Or perhaps, in our society that values goal-setting and personal achievement, the dichotomy becomes Accomplishing My Goals (success!) and Not Accomplishing My Goals (failure!). The binary, dichotomous thinking of adults takes many forms, but it can become deeply entrenched and sometimes habit-forming, difficult to get out of. I sometimes fall into this kind of binary thinking, this trap of only being able to consider two possibilities, two outcomes, two classes, spaces, realities, experiences, or realms. Especially when, like my daughter before the first day of school, I am anxious. Two realities, and ONLY two realities: Ms. C’s Class and The Other Thing That I Don’t Want. Ms. C’s Class and That Which is Unknown And Therefore Scary.
We often fall into this pattern of thinking when we are afraid, hurt, or angry. When we get into this limited way of understanding, it is like having blinders on, such that we can’t even perceive, let alone creatively imagine, any other way of understanding or being. There is a certain closed-mindedness and closed-heartedness that is part and parcel of this, for it puts us in an un-receptive place. We cannot receive or entertain any possibility that is outside of the limited view we’ve created – everything must fall into one of the two categories we have set up in our limited imaginations. Sometimes, we cannot even receive or entertain the possibility of God's grace, God at work in our lives, God bringing about new, different and previously unimagined possibilities, ways of being, experiences, realities and categories beyond the limits of our thoughts. We forget that THAT is precisely what God does, what God is about. In God and with God, the possibilities are limitless and beyond what we see or imagine. To limit our thinking, our hopes, our way of understanding to Ms. C's Class and Not Ms. C's Class - or That Which I Can Understand And Imagine And Therefore What I Want, and the Other Thing, NOT That Which I Can Understand And Imagine And Therefore Is Bad And Scary - to limit our thinking and hopes and way of approaching the world in this way is to attempt to put limits on what God can do in our lives. It is to take a stance of fear and close ourselves to love and grace. And it is a stance of scarcity, denying the infinite, unlimited possibilities that lie with God's wild creativity, God's ability to bring something out of nothing, to bring amazing, abundant new life out of that which seems utterly desolate. We trust that God is doing more for us and for the ones that we love than we can even desire or pray for. This is way beyond That Which I Want and Not That Which I Want.