It’s Okay to be Gray


She sat across the table from me, and paused briefly for a bite of salad. She had just delivered The Speech, with all the resoluteness, passion and fire that comes with it. It was not the first time I’d heard The Speech; I’ve encountered versions of it my whole life. I have heard these words from the pulpit, over dinner, in youth group, on social media. The topics have varied, but the tone is often unyielding and the ending of The Speech is always, always the same: “Because that’s what the Bible says.”

I stared down at the table, pretending to be absorbed in my fries. I wasn’t exactly sure what to say, but the knot in my stomach told me I was unsettled about more than a few of the points. I desperately want to dig into these unsettling topics. I would love to have a messy, respectful conversation over greasy fries and mojitos. But the gleam in this woman’s eye stopped me. It frightens me into silence. In my very personal experience, givers of The Speech are generally not receptive to others disagreeing with or asking questions of them. I deftly changed the subject.

Twenty years ago, I was just like her. I knew it all. I knew exactly how the Bible felt about everything, and I gave The Speech often. There was no need to delve into the tough questions, searching out different interpretations, context or nuance. I didn’t have to. I mean, wasn’t it all clear?

I lived quite comfortably in that judgmental box for much of my adolescence and young adulthood. But that comfort came at a steep cost. Not only did it close me off to other theories and ideas, it closed me off to people. There is precious little room for people or grace when you are always right.

As I grew older, I began to notice cracks in the theology that brought me so much security in my youth. Things weren’t adding up. I was hearing stories from real people that didn’t fit neatly into the framework I had honed for years. Pastors and theologians I respected changed their minds. Friends and family and leaders of faith were offering painstakingly researched responses to the big questions of our faith. And they certainly weren’t ending up at the same conclusions.

So I read. I read the Bible. I read a bunch of other books. I read stories and blogs and think pieces. I listened to podcasts and I prayed.

And I came to an unlikely conclusion.

I don’t know.

I don’t know A LOT.

The things I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt twenty years ago? Those black-and-white issues? Well, they’re looking very gray right now.

As a recovering black-and-white-thinker, I’m shocked by how free I feel in these gray areas. I thought a shred of uncertainty would unravel my faith in the worst way. But when I laid down my gavel, when I peeked out of my box, I realized how much room there is out here. There is so much glorious space! There is space to ask questions and to study and to wrestle with doubts. And there is so much blessed room for people. I want to hear their stories now. I want to look into their eyes and truly listen, without formulating a rebuttal in my mind. Without an agenda. Without The Speech.

Of course, there is still a sweeping expanse dedicated to conviction and theology and debate. Those are essential, faith-solidifying things. But my conviction is now coming from a posture of humility instead of dominance. My heart is softer and and others sense it. They know I am a safe place for them now. They know they can ask me hard questions over greasy fries and mojitos.

I used to think I had to have answers to make a difference, to be a strong person of faith. But I can honour the Bible, and not be sure where I land on certain passages. I can serve others while searching for what this whole faith journey is about. I don’t need to know everything to do something.

So I’m okay with the gray. Because even with all my question marks, I can still love God. And I can still love others.

If that’s my starting point, I think I’ll be all right.