Living in the middle

Tales from the Unending Story

February 10, 2021 | Opinion | Volume 25 Issue 4
Joshua Penfold | Columnist
(Photo by Luke van Zyl/Unsplash)

Life is full of spectrums, and I often struggle to find my place on them.

Some spectrums, like the light spectrum from infrared through the visible colours to ultraviolet, although fascinating, aren’t highly controversial. Other spectrums, like our political or theological views, can harbour very passionate and divisive lines.

Spectrum has been employed to allow a greater variety of possibilities in areas that culturally were once thought of as binary, offering shades of grey.

There’s also a spectrum of Bible translations mapping out whether a Bible leans more towards word-for-word or thought-for-thought translation.

Using a spectrum to help visualize an idea or reality can be helpful for identifying, differentiating or comparing.

Sometimes even spectrums are insufficient, and greater possibility is required. I find that wading through these possibilities is fascinating, but it can also be exhausting and overwhelming.

Maybe it’s just me as an Enneagram 9. The Enneagram model of personalities is a great tool for understanding yourself and others. It’s not a spectrum, but more of a circle of connectedness, so that there are no extremes, just different but equally valid points. I highly recommend exploring it.

I tend to see the legitimacy and value of nearly each and every perspective and can never seem to land anywhere on certain spectrums of belief or value. So I usually find myself sitting precariously on the fence, somewhere in the middle, with one foot in each possible camp.

This is sometimes a curse. I’m slow to make decisions, I’m always afraid that I haven’t considered something or someone. I’m a terrible debater because I’m always swayed by your point. Movement in my life is slow because decision-making is hard. On a personality test I once scored a six out of 100 for “preferred pace of action.” Making decisions can be challenging—or maybe painstaking or excruciating—see what I mean?

But, in other ways, living in the middle is a wonderful blessing. I’m able to listen, to empathize with most people, even when our views are worlds apart. I tend to be agreeable and able to bring people together. At its best, living on the fence is active tension-holding, not disengaged immobility.

Sometimes I just wish everyone would aim to live in the middle with me, although we’d probably never get anything done or ever have any interesting conversations. At other times, I wish I could just make a choice and run with it. Better to be wrong, having moved somewhere and learned from my mistakes, than done nothing. My personal proverb the last year or so has been: “The only thing worse than making a bad decision is making no decision out of fear.”

Because I know the tricky and exhausting path of the middle, I feel the wisdom of Agur in Proverbs 30: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.”

The middle road is difficult and ambiguous, even painful, as you feel the tension from both extremes. But often it is valuable and beautiful, and blesses others who lean far out one way or the other. In the case of Agur, to go too far on the wealth spectrum either way was dangerous and potentially sinful. He prayed that he might live in the middle: not too much, not too little.

Joshua Penfold ( lives between Kitchener and Stratford, Ont.

Read more Tales from the Unending Story columns:
Launched into oblivion
Sovereign of good and bad
God as our inheritance
Praying for the prophets
A spiritual disruption

(Photo by Luke van Zyl/Unsplash)

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