Complex People in a complex world

Published by Camille deVos on

Life is easy to manage if we can keep it all neatly boxed, sorted and organised. When everything is in the right box and in the right place it is easy for us to control, keep in place and we know exactly what it is we need to do to ensure everything is just right. We build, stack and organise our boxes to be just right, everything in it’s place and nothing touching or overlapping. It’s nice when we have the box for our work, family, maybe friends, physical health and faith, everything filed just right in those boxes, ready for us to access them at the times that we need them.

The thing is, life doesn’t work like that. It isn’t neat or organised. We cannot compartmentalise everything into the right boxes because they are all interconnected, feeding into each other, no matter how little we want them to. Physical illness or pain will impact our performance at work, the interactions we have with our friends and family, it will draw on our mental and emotional capacity and even have an impact on our faith and spiritual wellbeing. As much as we would like everything to be separated, neatly ordered and sorted, it isn’t possible.

We are complex people living in a complex world.

Boxes are something that we try to use to find some structure and order in the middle of the complexity. They are something that we try to use so that we aren’t influenced to much by the changes in one area. A method for us to try and keep everything under control, to deal with things in a neat, orderly manner and to not be overwhelmed. However, as we study scripture and what it tells us about the complexity of humanity and the intricacies of what it means to bear the image of God, we learn to see it much more like a whole lot of interconnected lines and shapes, nothing really having a definitive beginning or end.

We live as embodied souls.

Our physical bodies are one with our souls. The two cannot be seen separately.

We can see this in our own lives when we haven’t had enough sleep. We become more irritable, emotional and unmotivated.

As we come to learn and understand our own bodies, we see the impact of diet and exercise on our mental state, and the impact of our mental and emotional state on how well we eat and exercise. We see the way our hormones and other nutrients interact with how we feel.

Spending time with other people is encouraging, even more so when they are brothers and sisters in Christ. However, there are times when things are happening physically or emotionally that we don’t have the motivation to see others, we feel as if it will take too much out of us.

When we are unmotivated, we see the impact this has on us spiritually. Our hearts are not in it when we do our devotions. Maybe we skip them from time to time. Feeling overwhelmed or distressed might mean we are angry or upset with God. We struggle to get out of bed or fall into bed completely worn and tired with no energy to focus on reading or listening to scripture. Physical fatigue can bring spiritual fatigue.

This is something that we can see in action with someone who is dealing with chronic pain or illness. The burden of pain is heavy, especially when you face it new every day. However, as different events play out in someone’s life and they encounter different stressors, there may be flare-ups, times when the pain is much more intense because of how they are impacted mentally. At the same time, the weight of illness and pain wears away at someone mentally, bringing mental fatigue and pain because life can be so very hard. They lack the motivation to spend time with others socially and even times just being with family can take a lot out of them. This too plays our spiritually, the pressure either drawing a person closer to God or further away from his loving care.

The same may be when the illness is more mental that physical. The mental fatigue and distress makes it hard to sleep, or difficult to get out and about in the morning, with a lingering impact on a persons physical wellbeing. There may be a chemical component that requires someone to take medication to help manage their symptoms, or a more medical component as some parts of the body are not functioning properly (e.g. thyroid), or as a person faces a chronic or terminal illness. There may be idols, inaccurate beliefs or a desire for control that feeds the mental illness, or the illness feeds inaccurate beliefs. The distress makes seeing other people hard, and over time barriers can grow between them and the people that they love because they have withdrawn.

There is always so much more happening than meets the eye.

So much more than we can understand. There is so much complexity in our own lives that we cannot keep it all in sperate boxes. It all interacts. We don’t always know how it is interacting but what we do know is how we are stewarding what we do and how we care for our body and soul.

The same is for the people that we love and care for. It is so easy to see someone who is struggling and see a deficit in one area and point out how they just need to have a good diet and exercise more, or how they just need to read their bible more or pray better, or just take their medication. There is no just doing anything.

As we come alongside people we need to take the time to listen to what is happening.

We need to take the time to understand what is going on. To make sense of how everything is interacting in their lives.

We need to compassionately and wisely see how the different factors of who they are play a role in the experiences and situations they face. We need to carefully ask questions and come to understand how they are functioning as embodied souls in a complex world.

There are no boxes or carefully ordered files when it comes to everything that is happening in our lives. It is interactive and multifaceted, complex and challenging, yet so very beautiful at the same time


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