Leaving Simple Behind: Embracing Complexity


“God keeps telling me Keep it simple. Keep it simple.The father of the groom told me this as we drove to the wedding in which I was to be a matron of honor. At that moment, it sounded kind of wise. He was a Christian and seemed like a nice guy. Except what he didn’t tell me was that he had spent the morning arguing with his daughter about whether or not to bring the woman with whom he was having an affair to the reception.

To this day, I cannot imagine anything that would be more hurtful to a wife who was still blissfully unaware of his infidelity. Keep it simple. How about Thou shalt not commit adultery? Is that simple enough for you?

Simplicity aside, he eventually repented and to my knowledge is still married to his wonderful (and forgiving) wife. The lesson for me was more complex. When people inform me that God has told them something, I have to ask myself a couple questions. 1. Did He really? And 2. How sure is the interpretation? I ask myself the same questions when I think I have heard from God.

Because very few things are simple. Decluttering is a fad right now, I think in part, as a way to feel more in control. Some validitysimple lies in this point. After all, a clean organized house does feel better and is more psychologically empowering. But decluttering is only on the outside. Simplifying the outside does not organize our internal complexities.

In fact, I don’t think very many things are simple and when we try to force them to be, someone ends up getting hurt. And I really get the need to make things simple. I used to constantly look for formulas as a way to make life easier. I trained in four modalities of inner healing in a search for a formula that worked for me and my kids. Something to heal, instruct, and transform us from broken to whole.

Each method worked, that is, to a point. As I began to see the intricacies of the human body, soul, and spirit, I began to realize a couple of things. These realizations complicated my life. Well, actually they just shone the light on the true nature of life and its difficulties.

Realization 1: Everything matters. I used to say it doesn’t matter, at least not anymore. I would shrug off the abuse of my ex and tell myself that it didn’t matter. I absorbed the abuse from a number of the institutions I taught at and told myself it didn’t matter. Here is the truth though. What we do and say matters. Each choice we make is a step along a path. It counts. All of it.

Realization 2: Getting over it is complicated. When I left my abusive ex, I thought I could leave all of that behind. A lot of cliché’s go into the idea of setting one’s baggage down and traveling lighter. But the baggage of abuse is wounding in the mind and heart. They take time and intention to heal from. The words we speak, our actions, and even the motivations of our hearts need examination in the light of truth.

Realization 3: Everything is a process. The reason Jesus tells us to forgive seventy times seven is that it takes at least 490 attempts to forgive real wrongs. I think of forgiveness as a gradual acceptance that some loss is permanent. In order to forgive my ex, I have to grieve and release each event. Each event carries with it a number of losses. Freedom is possible, but for many of us, it is a matter of degree plus time.

simpleRealization 4: Black and white thinking is childish. The Bible tells us that we have to leave behind the ways and thoughts of childhood. What we miss most about our childhoods if we were lucky enough to have a decent one is that decisions were pretty easy back then. Things were good or bad depending on our parent’s interpretation. I mention the Ten Commandments earlier as simple, but that isn’t quite true, is it? What exactly does it mean to honor your parents? I bet that looks very different depending on who you had as parents.

Realization 5: I am never going to get a handle on it all. Nor am I meant to. Take, for instance, the Bible. I consider it to be the most complicated book. The message is clear, yes. But I have now spent about 25 years studying it and still feel like I barely scratched the surface. If God intended things to be simple, wouldn’t He have authored a less complicated book? The truth of the Gospel is pretty clear. The living it out in real life is utterly complex.

Paul understood this when he said why do I keep doing things I don’t want to do? Who will save me from this body of death? There is a joke at most Christian colleges that the answer to every question asked in the classroom is Jesus. And yes, Jesus is the answer to Paul’s question. But the nature of the atonement is a mystery. How does it work that Jesus took on the sin of the world in His body on the cross? Theologians can’t agree, and none have a truly thorough explanation.

Obviously, it is pretty complicated.

So I don’t have a blanket statement on the nature of reality. And if you do, you really don’t. I remember meeting a woman whose mantra was God is good. I can’t disagree with that nor do I want to. But she used this as a shield against other truths. She lost several children to various diseases and accidents but claimed that she didn’t need to grieve because they were in heaven and God is good.

She happened to be one of the least empathetic people I have known. She cut off her own heart and grief, so she couldn’t acknowledge that of others. She desperately wanted life to be simple. She wanted the reason for the deaths of her children to be simple, so she put a simple answer where no real answer, at least no simple answer, could be put.

Over and over again, people come to me wanting answers to their difficulties in life. They want me to hand it to them. Their first mistake is in believing that I have an answer for them. I can only tell what worked for me. Answers to our deepest questions take searching our hearts and learning about life. I wanted help regarding my first husband. I had to go looking and so do they.  I found mentors in so many books on marriage, abuse, emotional health, and counseling.

Their second mistake is believing that a simple answer can be found. No simple answer exists for why. Neither does one simpleexist for how to change. We must shoulder the burden of our own life. Understanding and wisdom do not come easily for most of us.

The last mistake is believing that they would be able to accept my answer. Recently I had circular conversations with two people. Each of them is involved with a potential mate that is emotionally distant or abusive. They get very little out of the relationship, at least not what they are looking for. I tell them all the right answers. For one it is, abusers don’t change. They get worse. You can do better. The other I point out the unhealthy patterns and suggest that it isn’t their job to change the other person.

Simple answers. True answers, even. But both hang on stubbornly to relationships that probably won’t end well. Why? Willfulness? Neediness? Hormones? Unhealed wounding?

Probably all of those things.

If you want to have a deep understanding of yourself and the world around you, accept now that our deepest is fairly shallow. There is no end to the depths and the complexities of our own psyche. And if this is true, how complex are the thoughts of a God who created us, created this vast universe and who dwells outside of time in an eternal realm which we cannot begin to fathom?

I don’t remember Jesus saying Keep it simple. I just remember Him telling the disciples to follow Him.  After that, things got pretty complicated.

A couple books on the topic. The book on simplicity is a spiritual classic. And no, it isn’t really that simplistic.

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.


Boundary Lines: The Truth about Personal Balance

11 Replies to “Leaving Simple Behind: Embracing Complexity”

  1. “I am never going to get a handle on it all.” <– This!! This truth is so important to me. I don't have it all together, and neither does anyone else. Believing otherwise is dangerous and diluted. It's so easy to put others up on a pedestal, but the truth is we all need Jesus.

  2. Thank you for being so open about your struggles and your process. This is so good. I agree that there are no simple answers ever. Being a product-oriented person, I have learned from experience that the process is where I learn the most and have the greatest opportunity to experience what God has for me. Learning to embrace the mystery and actually trust has been life changing for me. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  3. I can relate to where you mention the woman who almost cut off all empathy. But in a different aspect of life. I have been at that point with ill health, where my hope & expectation of others support was completely shattered. I switched off emotion. I couldn’t cope with anymore hurt. God has softened my heart, I ran to Him..confused & bewilderef. But I am still cautious. I hope the woman in question reached the point of emotional healing.

  4. susanhomeschooling says: Reply

    Getting over something is complicated if it wounded the deepest levels of your being. Even with forgiveness, often the damage has gone into other areas that you never knew. God is able to being healing, but we need to grieve the losses in order to live life fully.

  5. … & in saying that, Gods peace is such a wonderful gift. Wonderful for her to have that to step into from the tragedies experienced.

  6. I love this “I don’t remember Jesus saying Keep it simple. I just remember Him telling the disciples to follow Him. After that, things got pretty complicated.” I have so many clients who come to me asking, “What should I do?” or “What does the bible say about this?” Neither of those questions are black and white. I can always, 100% say, “Love Jesus.” but after that things get dicey. I get concerned when people dole out black and white advice without knowing context to the person’s life.

  7. I don’t think we’re wired to keep it simple. We’re just too complex. I also loved the line, “I don’t remember Jesus saying Keep it simple. I just remember Him telling the disciples to follow Him.”
    Great post!

  8. Those are two great questions to ask ourselves. I also ask myself a third to figure out the first two…Does it contradict the Bible? If it does then the answers to the first two probably are I didn’t hear correctly.

  9. Things are complicated and complex it is soooo true. There is no easy answer or no cookie cutter solution. It is a journey…a life journey until we see Him face to face. I am sorry for your pain and I know a similar pain…there is no good “Why” reason but only a Savior and a promise of a new life. Hugs.

  10. I always love your posts. Because- wait for it- they tell the simple truth. and because you keep it real. We are, as humans, truly complex- just as God made us. And the answers to life are complex and sometimes multi-layered. Yet- if we stop and look to Jesus, the answers become more clear. But even that is complex. That’s ok. God can untangle any mess we make, or any that someone else makes for us. Blessings!

  11. Truth! “The truth of the Gospel is pretty clear. The living it out in real life is utterly complex.” A friend and I were talking about this the other day. We came to Christ so simply and now it’s all so complex. And even so we love Him. And the complexities because He is teaching us. Thanks for this powerful post!

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