Choosing Greys in a Black and White World

Kids who grow up in a Christian culture often understand the world in a black and white sense, and in many ways, the world we experience is very much black and white. After all, rights and wrongs are often best expressed in absolutes. Don’t have sex outside of marriage. Don’t be immodest. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t do drugs. Don’t watch bad movies. Don’t listen to bad music. If you do, you’re going to Hell. If you don’t, you’re safe. You’re a good kid.

As a kid, these concepts aren’t hard to understand. It’s really not until you’re older that you start seeing the grey areas in the absolutes. What defines “bad” music or “bad” movies? Smoking is kind of an easy one, but what about drugs? Caffeine is a drug, and a pretty addicting one. Don’t drink? What about social drinking? Is it ok to just have one? What about drinking for a medicinal purpose? What constitutes immodesty? It wasn’t until I was much older that I understood that sex could even be a grey area, but people have found ways to question it.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Yeah, this is another post about how the world is a lot more complicated than we thought as kids.” You know that already. This is a post about growing up. As kids, we’re mostly only taught the absolutes (if you’re lucky you get the absolutes; if you’re not lucky you get a vague sort of impression of the absolutes and you have to define the lines yourself). We’re often taught as we get older that the absolutes aren’t exactly as simple as they seem. We are never taught how to choose our own lines, and we’re definitely not taught how to deal with the people who firmly believe that all of our lines are way too close to black, regardless of how carefully we made those lines.

So a lot of us choose the safe options. We go all white around the people who might see black when we only see grey. And we’re trapped living a child’s life because we only have the safe options–the white areas that our elders have defined for us.  When we’re alone, we let the greys slip into our life and we feel guilty. Ashamed. Never guilty for making the choice to allow grey into our life, because we have recognized our own limits and concluded that this kind of grey is ok. We feel guilty because we expect condemnation from the people who we’ve only shown white to. We feel guilty because we feel like we’re living a double standard. And we feel conflicted because we want to be adults and do adult things, but we are confined to live in the constraints of a black and white world. And lets face it, most adult things wind up seeming pretty black.

But here’s a news flash for my fellow 20-somethings. Our elders chose the whites for us as children because they were safe, not because they expected us to stay in the white our whole lives. I guarantee that they don’t live entirely in the white–at least, not in the white as they were taught it. It’s entirely possible that the whites they taught us as children were much more grey when they were children. And perhaps some of the things they told us were black were white when they were kids. I also guarantee that they will be ok with a lot of the decisions you make for your life (all of my clothing does not cover my knees–I’m pretty sure everybody’s ok with that *gasp*), provided that those decisions were carefully and prayerfully made, and that you’re not putting those decisions up on a bill-board to show the world that you’re an adult and can make these decisions and demand that no one judge you for the ability to make a choice.

I’m not acting out. I’m not responding to waves of condemnation from my peers and elders. I’m just tired of feeling like I’m living a double standard because I know that the lines I’ve drawn aren’t exactly where I’ve always been told that they should be, and feeling like a rebellious teenager because I’m keeping those choices a secret. This isn’t some grand come-out speech where I’m going to end by announcing that I’ve concluded that some huge controversial thing is ok. I just like pop music. I want to dance at my wedding. I think it was wrong for that evangelist to pressure my entire school into “vowing” eternal abstinence from alcohol when I was in 9nth grade. It’s ok to kiss before your wedding, or even before you get engaged–believing that my first kiss would be on the alter was a foolish and romantic dream that showed a distinct lack of understanding of my own character. Harry Potter is quite possibly my favorite book series of all time, and I think it’s perfectly ok for a 13 year old to read at least the first three. “Bad words” aren’t exactly sinful.

These are issues that I’ve thought a lot about, with prayer and care. But adulthood isn’t just about making your own decisions. It’s about making those decisions consistently, reasonably, and with concern for other people. So, I accept that I have made and continue to make choices as I learn to perceive myself as an adult. I accept that others will disagree with me about some decisions. I will willingly listen to any concerns others may choose to express to me about the nature of my decisions, and carefully consider their concerns if it is not something I have already considered. I fully expect that I will reconsider many of the choices that I have made and will make and find that I have often come to the wrong conclusion. It will often take a firm awakening to realize my mistakes. I do not expect others to hold the same standards I do. I do expect them to be open with me if they feel that my actions are damaging their conscience. I will do my best to make choices with consideration of others, but I know I will fail to consider everybody.

These issues may seem small to you, but they’re mainly examples. If I keep who I am a secret, even from myself, how will I know when I am wrong and what needs to change?

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