Three Certainties About Ambivalence


How can I make life decisions when I can't figure out what socks to wear? It was easy when sock choices where limited to black, brown or white when wearing tennis shoes. But with the onset of multicolored strips, polka dots and patterned socks, I'm absolutely outdone. So I'm staring at the abyss that is my sock drawer thinking, "And I'm the one tasked with trying to figure out life... great. Ambivalence sets in and all the decisions of the day crowd around to such a degree there's no room for my socks or me. Have you been there? Have you had that moment when all of the possibilities you face spread out before you like the branching out of a river delta? The generation I care for and mentor have been there for sure, so I get ambivalence.

Ambivalence is a sense of confusion or uncertainty due to mixed feelings towards a given issue or issues. I would contend many times this uncertainty comes from having an overwhelming number of opportunities. Because of their multiplicity of possible paths, many of the students and young people I serve have debilitating cases of paralysis of analysis. There so much to consider they find themselves doing more considering than actually living. But what breaks my heart for them is when they actually choose a path to walk their steps are so tentative they sabotage the whole affair with their timidity. And the questions persist! What will happen if I do this? What are the consequences if I do that? Should I go left or right? As I seek to answer these questions for myself as well as those I journey with here are three things I have learned about ambivalence.

Normalize mystery: Ambivalence comes from fear of the unknown. Often we have been fed the notion by unreliable sources that everything is black & white. Politicians, pastors and many others paint a picture of a world full of certainty. So when paths of the unknown stretch out before us and we have to make a decision to walk with uncertainty we are unable to do so. Meditation, life lived, as well as good mentorship normalizes mystery. Also, the deeper our intimacy with God the more we are willing to walk in mystery. With God we may not know exactly where we are going or what the outcome but we know the Sacred is with us as we find our way.

What's not required for commitment: Ambivalence is countered by commitment. You don't have to have all of the answers, understand the final outcome, or have an assurance of comfort and success to commit. Commitment pledges to walk the path chosen regardless of the knowledge of those things. While due diligence is required to make prudent decisions; neither life nor God offer all of the answers or give guarantees of ease. Commitment dares to believe with help from the Divine any path chosen can lead to ultimate purpose.

Disinvesting from the notion there is one right path: Ambivalence often comes from the belief that there is only one right path to take. Then all you have to do is pick that one right path out of the many before you and it will lead to fulfillment. This is much like the myth of the Soul Mate. Now I don't want to suggest someone's Soul Mate is not out there. This may certainly be true. But just because that one person may be out there does not mean you could not find a lifetime of fulfillment with someone else. Once one divests themselves of the notion there is only one right path they can get down to the business of investing love, enthusiasm, creativity and intentionality into the path they are on. This reinvestment may make any path you are on the right path.

O.K. today I'm rocking the multicolored stripped socks. Strike that! I'm wearing the ones with the dolphins. Yes, definitely the dolphins.