The Rev. Brian McLaren: Complexity: The Season of Spiritual Strengthening

"There's a way to do this." That's what I remember saying to myself again and again as I entered the season of Complexity. How was I to find God's will for my life? Change bad habits? Avoid or repair conflict? Become more well liked or effective? Find a mate and build a healthy family? Somewhere were people who knew how, and if I could find them, I'd learn their checklist, no matter how complex, and I'd master their techniques, no matter how difficult. I became an avid devotee of conferences and workshops at this stage-as I still am today. I scribbled copious notes on sermons and eagerly listened to religious broadcasts, wanting to glean every practical tip and memorize any step-by-step plan that might help me in my spiritual journey. Even today, decades later, I'm building on strengths I developed during my first journey through Stage Two.

When we're in Stage Two, we don't leave Stage One behind. We build upon it in three new movements of the soul. Without these three new skills or strengths, we remain dependent and immature, but with them we learn increasing independence. Whether it's praying, reading and interpreting the Bible, sharing our faith with others, fulfilling a ministry in the church, or simply handling the inevitable complexities of life, in Stage Two our goal is to be able to say, "I can do it myself. I can handle it. I know how."

Our focus now shifts from right versus wrong to effective versus ineffective. To the degree we feel we have orthodoxy (right belief) nailed down, we now turn to orthopraxy (right behavior). To our core of dualism we now add a new layer pragmatism. The world is still di-vided between good and evil, but now good people are identified less as the correct and more as the effective, less as the ones who get things right and more as the ones who get things done. If the greatest sin of Simplicity was being wrong, now in Complexity the greatest sin is being apathetic or ineffective. If we previously were attracted to leaders who told us how to be and do right, now we are drawn to leaders who show us how to be and do well. If Stage One leaders taught us the rules of the game, Stage Two leaders now coach us in how to win it. (Right now, Stage Two readers are saying, "Yes. That's exactly why I bought this book!") We're no longer satisfied to be part of the right in-group; we now seek identity as part of a winning team. Within that team, we want to play our part well.

And that is our great strength as Stage Two people-we share the can-do, "Yes, we can!" spirit. Of course, as with every stage, we can get comfortable here and refuse to move on when this season has run its course. When reality refuses to comply with our complex schemes, strategies, and techniques, we can blame reality and go into denial rather than question some of our assumptions. Stage Two is, after all, a really enjoyable time in life, and saying good-bye to it is so painful that many people never do.

But for those of us just entering Stage Two, there's no need to think about letting it go. Right now, there are skills to master, goals to achieve, challenges to conquer. At the age of eighteen, those challenges might include choosing a college major or navigating the complexities

of romance. At twenty, they may involve a relationship that needs to be nurtured, a career choice, or finding a cause to work for. At thirty and forty, they might entail raising children, handling new opportunities at work, or caring for an unhappy spouse or an unwell marriage. At fifty and sixty, life's challenges might include aging parents or fading dreams, health setbacks or new freedoms. At seventy, eighty, and ninety, they might involve surviving a surgery, coping with grief, planning for the next holiday with the grandchildren, or preparing for death. Whatever the challenges, Stage Two is about learning three essential practices that help us survive and thrive, not cave in or give up.

What are those practices? First is the ability to self-examine, admit mistakes, and process failure. Second is the habit of acknowledging our personal weaknesses and limitations and seeking wisdom, strength, and skill beyond our own. And third is the ability to empathize with others in their pain.

If Simplicity resembles springtime with in its fragility and vitality, Complexity resembles summer-a time of hard work and getting things done during long sunny days.

[Excerpted from _ Naked Spirituality: A Life with God  **in 12 Simple Words. _Copyright © 2011 by Brian McLaren. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne, a division of HarperCollinsPublishers]**