Living with the what-if questions

Sitting on the bus today I heard the passengers sitting one row in front of me engaging in a very “spirited” conversation. I only heard the very opening part of that conversation, in spite of how loud they were I deliberately did not want to hear the rest of their “talk” so I put on my headphones and listened to my iPod. But at the outset the conversation went something like this:

One: I was 17 when I had my first child. It was very hard, we had nothing, hardly enough to survive, and I had no idea what I was doing. But now I have grandchildren…(choking up), what a blessing they are.

Two: You know there was a plan there. It was all meant to be. He wanted you to have grandchildren at a young age and gave you this ordeal to bring you to a better place.

As a person who stands in front of 175 people every Sunday morning trying to make sense of the world, our personal lives, and everything that connects us to others, I am keenly aware of how we process these questions of life and its seeming messiness. There is a constant sense of “what if”, what if we had made this decision, what if we had gone down this other path, what if we had forged a relationship with this other person… “What if?” How do we make sense of these questions, do we make sense of them, do we just try to let go and live every moment as if it is new?

My Buddhist friends tell me that in meditation they try to be present to the now, to let go of the past and the future and be in the moment. I appreciate and respect this and I see the wisdom of it. But I am not sure most of us, at least those of us who live in this place, in this time, can do that. I live with my anxieties, my regrets, my hopes and aspirations. And in the midst of them I do try to make sense of these choices I have made and am making.

As a person of faith the question of where God stands in the midst of this is ever-present. I recognize that many of us choose the path of the two women I heard on the bus today, to make sense of it all they put it all in God’s hands and suggest God is in control. There is a sense of completeness in that, a sense that we can hand this over to someone or something greater than ourselves who has our interest at heart and knows what is good for us. Those who follow this path call this trust or faith and forms the basis for their peace of mind.

Even with those who are the most reflective in this manner of faith there are exceptions that are necessary. To say God is in control of everything is to say something about our lack of agency, it really does minimize our choice to do things that make our lives more whole and just. It really does beg the question that if God is in control of everything how is it that I can summon the moral will to do anything? I feel this thinking is a recipe for passivity. This is my biggest concern about the pious who place all their trust and faith in God to be “in control” that it cedes all the activity in the world to those who do act.

Surely the life of a follower of Jesus has more on her/his mind that prayerful devotion, there is a sense of Jesus’ words and deeds that include action, discipleship, “in heaven as it is on earth”. If we really are called to be a shining light on a hill, to see the other as we see Jesus, to treat the least of these as we treat Christ, then we must accept that there is reason for us to act and that there are consequences both for our action and our non-action.

It is for these reasons that I think not everything that is has been made so by the Creator, that there is still work to be done by our hands in God’s name, with God’s purpose, for God’s Creation. I affirm that a narrative like “it’s all God’s plan” works for many people who cannot think of the alternative. It’s easy for me, in my relatively easy life, to think of the alternative, that not everything has been controlled by God for a Godly purpose. That some decisions are not good decisions and we live with that. I know it is easier for me to go down that path. But I also know it would be inauthentic for me to do other than what my mind and heart tell me, which is to accept that some of the work left to be done, God’s work, rests in our hands, rests in my hands. That means accepting that some of our work, my work, has not been what is could or should have been. I accept my own brokenness. But it also means I have the potential to be part of something larger than self. And that is a mighty blessing indeed!