Strictly speaking I suppose you don’t – and in practice few do. It’s easy to point out all the things that are wrong with the world. Suggesting a better way is a lot harder. Suggesting a better way that actually works is harder still.
But since I went on a rant about people who oversimplify the world I figure I need to offer an alternative.
Life is complicated, and sometimes it’s complicated beyond our coping skills. Sometimes we can simplify, settling on one thing that works and ignoring “choices” that cause more stress than they’re worth. Steve Jobs wore identical jeans and black turtlenecks every day – he didn’t have to spend time shopping or picking out clothes in the morning. Sometimes summaries and categories help – I don’t need to know every candidate’s official position on every issue to know that while I may not like the Blue candidate, I’ll like the Red candidate even less. I’ll probably vote for the Green candidate if one bothers to run – they have about as much chance of winning in Texas as the Blues.
But some complications you can’t ignore or simplify away. Jobs disappear, illnesses arise, loved ones die. Roofs leak and bank accounts shrink. The oil is running out and nobody knows how much is left. The climate is changing and nobody knows exactly what impact it will have, even if we’re pretty sure it will make things inhospitable for humans and other species.
Some – though thankfully, not all – of our Christian friends like to say “just turn it all over to God.” The implication is that an all-powerful, all-loving deity is running the universe and he’ll make everything turn out OK, one way or another.
As a Pagan and especially as a polytheist, I can’t do that.
All my experiences of the Gods tell me that while They are older, wiser, and more powerful than humans, They are not all-powerful, all-loving, or all-anything else. Perhaps more importantly, They have Their own goals, desires, and responsibilities, which have little if anything to do with the details of my life.
Danu is a Mother Goddess, but She’s not standing over me like some divine helicopter parent ready to take care of anything I can’t handle (my human mother didn’t do that either, one of many things she did right).
So what can we do when things are too complicated or too hard for us to deal with?
Trust the Gods will give you what you need to do what They asked you to do. Do the Gods need humans? Some think that idea is absurd – how could a God need anything? I don’t know – maybe they’re right. What I do know is that Gods frequently ask / tell / demand humans to do things for Them. Perhaps They want you to make offerings, or tell Their stories, or write a book about Them. Perhaps They want you to embody Their virtues and promote Their values in the wider world. Perhaps They want something very specific known only to you.
It stands to reason that if They want something badly enough to ask you to do it, 1) They think you can do it, and 2) They’ll make sure you have what you need to complete the task. That may not work out the way you expect, or the way you’d prefer. The comfort of already comfortable humans tends to not be too high on the list of divine priorities.
Whether that means you should adjust your priorities is another matter for another time. What’s most important is that even if a divinely-mandated task or quest seems impossibly complicated, get started.But what if your issue isn’t a requirement from the Gods, it’s just part of life? Not all difficult situations have a grand purpose – sometimes they just are. Or perhaps you’re a non-theist or you’re a polytheist who simply hasn’t heard a call from a deity.
Trust your ancestors. We live in a society that celebrates the new: the hot pop star, the trendy restaurant, the latest smartphone, the newest drug or therapy. We can get caught up in all this newness and lose sight of the fact that people have been dealing with challenges and difficulties for centuries. Instead, we can draw on the wisdom of our ancestors.
Maybe you need to pick up and move – people have been emigrating and immigrating for tens of thousands of years. Maybe you need to settle down and plant a garden – figuratively or literally. Maybe you need to bury the dead. Maybe you need to celebrate the living.
Even if you don’t know exactly how your great great great grandmother would have handled a particular situation, you know she did, or you wouldn’t be here. A part of her lives on in you – if she could do it, so can you.
Trust yourself. If you’re old enough to read this blog, you’re old enough to have faced some difficulties – and overcome them. Maybe your current situation is totally different, but it doesn’t matter. The same intelligence and determination, the same resourcefulness and resilience that got you through that difficulty will get you through whatever you’re facing now. Trust yourself and your capabilities.
I do not believe “everything happens for a reason” – especially when that reason is assumed to be your personal growth and development. That idea is a monotheistic folly unworthy of Christianity, much less Paganism and polytheism. But growth can come through hardship. To update the words of Phillips Brooks (1835 – 1893) made famous by President John F. Kennedy “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger people.”
Deal with the present. But sometimes none of that is enough. Sometimes the problem is too big or the pain is too deep. These are the times the simplistic platitudes leave a sour taste in our mouths – we know they’re lies because we see and feel how empty they are.
Some problems seem big because they are big. They can’t be solved, they can’t be ignored, and they aren’t going away on their own.
We can accept that they’re too big for us to handle without abdicating our responsibilities to do something about them. I can’t solve global warming – I can use less energy. I can’t end racism – I can treat everyone with dignity and respect, and I can refuse to accept systems that kill and imprison people of color at vastly disproportional rates.
On a personal level, we can mourn our losses and then begin to move on. If we can’t move on then we can carry on. Sometimes we have to begin by just getting up. If that’s all you can do today, then that’s a good start.
Life is complicated. We can’t pretend it’s not, and we can’t expect a divine helicopter parent will take care of it for us.
But we have resources for dealing with life’s complications, and we are far more resourceful than most of us assume.