I was halfway into a profound thought while seated at my computer recently when I noticed my water glass. Hey, it’s half-full, as exactly as I can tell just looking at it! Now there’s a metaphor that’s been beaten to death. Before everyone had experience with transparent drinking glasses, there was a saying about half a loaf being better than none. I’m sure there’s a series of sayings on this point in various languages going back nearly to when humans first spoke about their possessions, sometime after our ancestors first appreciated that having more is better. Was that even before we had brains? Is there anything that is more of a no-brainer than that having some is better than having none, even if we want more? But where do we go from there? Do we ration what we have? Is only a new supply of resources going to make the situation better?
The thing is that while I do indeed tend to focus on the water or other things I have rather than what I no longer have, it’s not as though there are only two ways to see this. The truth about how I look at my water glass when half the water is left is more complicated than that it is half full. I see my water. Half of this last round I poured is gone. Half remains. When that’s gone, I’ll pour some more. As long as I know there’s more water coming after this, it’s not much of a challenge emotionally or intellectually. A third, three quarters, overflowing, the overall reality remains the same.
If the glass of water or its metaphorical equivalent were the last glass of water that ever would exist, I’d much more likely be a half-empty kind of guy. Like many metaphors, the circumstances of what’s really under discussion are important.
“Do I have enough?” is not a simple question, whether one is discussing physical needs, emotional needs, or spiritual needs. It’s not a simple dichotomy of whether it’s best to look to what one has or to what one no longer has. Aren’t both possible, with other possibilities as well? Yet human nature tries to make everything a dichotomy.
On spiritual topics, I’m forever writing about the atheist vs. traditionalist dichotomy, in my case rejecting both. Within theism, there’s the rigid, conservative vs. the experimental, liberal dichotomy. I firmly belong to the latter school, but that’s not the whole story. People get stuck on such things, on some simple identity, either for ourselves or for the world around us.
There are always many possibilities, not just two. Yet there is always one reality. God is whoever and whatever God is, as is anything else. The things I need form a set that is a single reality, though it’s a different set of what I need to survive vs. what I need to be happy. How I look at my wants is not the most important part of that.
Yet people talk about that last part, because we have this very visual and understandable metaphor of whether a glass is half empty or half full. Right now my water glass is both. Later today I will refill it the same way regardless of how I label it now. It’s not a big deal. Nor is it a big deal for many other things in my life where I might wonder if I have enough, material things or more abstract qualities to my life.
But thinking of all the possibilities, that I think is a big deal. I look at those who seem needy spiritually, and I think that’s what they’re missing the most. It’s not so much what they wish they still had, such as youth, wealth, family, companions, or a place that felt more like home. It’s not so much focusing on what they have now, as if God has to have given them what they need as far as theology, customs and materials. Otherwise they might need to rethink whether they know anything about God. Who wants to do that?
I think what’s missing is not appreciating the possibilities for becoming content. They are many, though for any one of us, they may boil down to just one possibility, one we may already have in our possession or not. Many possibilities, one reality, it’s not a simple dichotomy. It’s not that feeling empty is bad while full is good, or the opposite. It’s not that the beliefs I have are good, while everything else is bad. There’s more to it than that.