That observation was posted on the desk of the administrator in one of the church offices where I served as minister. The administrator came to such a conclusion after myriad times of responding to complaints or suggestions from church members who saw only one small piece of the church operations, yet did not realize they were seeing only one small piece. While their complaint seemed valid or their suggestion seemed wise, placing those complaints and suggestions in the context of the entire church and all that happened usually demonstrated that whatever they were asking simply would not work, because “it’s never just one thing.”
This week the seasonal calendar brings us to summer solstice, the longest day of the year—and also the day when, having reached that climax of sunlight, we begin immediately to see each day shorten, losing about a minute of light every twenty-four hours. So the longest day represents simultaneously a peak of sunlight and a waning of sunlight, all at the same time. As with the movements of church life, so with the movements of seasons: it’s never just one thing.
And the same observation holds true for much in our lives, that it’s never just one thing. Endings often bring with them beginnings, and beginnings often set in motion endings. Relationships provide a constant mix of more than one thing, sometimes conflicting things that inspire conflicting emotions. We may find ourselves confused about which aspect of experience to respond to, especially when the responses themselves are contradictory: am I angry at what you just said, or relieved that you finally were honest with me? Do I welcome the opportunity being offered me, or hold back in fear of all the challenges it brings? How is it that I can feel love and hate all at the same time, towards the same person?
Poet May Sarton, in “A Hard Death,” uses the image of a flower that is already starting to fade in the very moment it reaches the height of its beauty as a way of noting that our lives include a kind of dying in each moment, no matter how fully we may be living. Even at the most fundamental level of our existence, it’s never just one thing, we are never just one thing, and living well means noting that paradox and embracing both sides of it as best we can. Knowing it’s never just one thing, we are likely to choose more wisely and love more fully, better able to embrace the contradictions of our lives.