“How do I reconcile my conflicting feelings?” I asked my spiritual director Charm years ago after the birth of our first child.
My baby boy was a one-week-old bundle of joy. His tiny smile and soft coo’s filled my heart with awe. But, the late-night feedings and sleepless nights wore thin on my wife and me.
“You don’t need to reconcile your emotions,” Charm said with a gentle grandmother’s smile. “You hold them in opposite hands and give them each a name. Then ask the Creator for the grace to understand the deeper truth you’re being invited to learn.”
“Do what?” I struggled to understand.
“Try this,” Charm said. “Stretch out your left hand and imagine you’re cupping in it the love and joy of being a father. Next, hold in your right hand the hardship and suffering of caring for your newborn son. Close your eyes and ask God for the grace to reveal what the Creator’s inviting you to learn.”
With eyes closed and heart open, after a few moments the words unselfish love bubbled up.
“Yes!” Charm gave me a high-five. “Unselfish love means loving others, even when it’s difficult to do so—such as when they’re rude, it’s inconvenient, or they want too much from you. Learning this skill will take you a lifetime of work. But your son is inviting you to understand the depth and breadth of what it means to love with all your heart despite the suffering it entails at times.”
We can apply to most situations Charm’s simple template of naming and holding our conflicting emotions in our hands and asking God for the grace to understand the deeper truths we’re being invited to learn.
The Color of Gray
It’s like the color gray. Gray combines black and white. It pulls together two extremes found on the color wheel; mixes them into a whole, and can produce Payne’s gray—a deep hue celebrated by artists as rich and exquisite.
Gray is the color of wisdom—the sort acquired with age and gray hair. Not everything is black and white, American journalist Lisa Ling reports. There is gray—a deeper universal truth and insight—to every story.
As author Roma Tearne writes, “Gray has no agenda…Gray has the ability, no other colour has, to make the invisible visible.”
When we combine the “both-ands” of conflicting feelings with divine grace, like mixing the opposite colors of black and white, we discover a deeper truth. A deeper shade of gray emerges in the art of our lives, one that provides us with beauty, insight, and wisdom.
The Promise of Paradox
In his book, The Promise of Paradox—a Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life, Parker Palmer echoes what Charm was teaching me.
Palmer says we need to name the conflicting emotions in each of our life situations and then hold them without trying to reconcile them or push them away. Eventually, a third force—a deeper wisdom—arises that teaches us the life-lesson we’re invited to embrace.
Much like the sun and the moon, which provide balance between day and night, regulate ocean tides, and create the environment for plant life to emerge, our conflicting emotions provide rich soil to nourish our growth. They provide the gray which combines black and white into one.
When we hold the “both/and” of life’s holy tensions and bring them to God, we create inner space in our hearts and minds to let in Divine Light. And, mysteriously, if we listen deeply and tend our souls, the wisdom of paradox emerges. We discover the life-lesson the Creator is teaching us.
A Tool for Your Spiritual Toolbox
The next time you experience conflicting emotions, consider the color gray. Use this spiritual practice Charm and Parker Palmer teach:
Name the conflicting emotions
Separately cup them in your right and left hands
Then sit in the quiet, close your eyes, and let the Creator reveal to you the deeper truth you’re being invited to integrate into your life.
When we hold in our hands the black and white of our conflicting emotions, open our hearts to grace, and let God combine the feelings with Wisdom, the color of gray emerges, painting our lives with rich hues of Divine insight and guidance.
—brian j plachta
Give Yourself (and a loved one) a Valentine’s Day Gift: Falling In Love With God
February Workshop—Live and on Zoom
When we spend time with loved ones, we discover more about ourselves and those we treasure. We deepen the relationships and experience happiness. It’s the same with God. Celebrate the Feast Day of Love and discover a smorgasbord of spiritual practices for your Lenten journey – ways that allow you to fall more deeply in love with God.