Monday, December 10, 2012

Making Peace with Ambiguity

Living as I do with a strong German ethnicity - and a touch of OCD to boot - I find showing up late to anything to be absolutely unacceptable. If, for example, I am supposed to be somewhere at 2:00 p.m., I tend to organize my day such that I will show up no later than 1:50 p.m. To my way of thinking, "on time" is actually "late," and anything less than ten minutes ahead of the agreed-upon arrival time signals a shameful lack of attention and planning. If a class I am facilitating has been publicized to begin promptly at 6:30 p.m., I have to fight the temptation to shut and lock the door at 6:31 p.m. as a means of sending the clearest-possible message to those who made no provision for getting delayed in traffic.

Clearly, I am a mess, a helpless slave to a deranged emphasis on punctuality. Not at all someone you want in the audience of your movie theater if the advertised start time for the film is delayed or, Heaven forbid, the projector malfunctions. What exactly might be going on here?

In a word, control. (Or at least the illusion of it.)

While I might pass off my unhealthy obsession over time as something innocuous (or even positive) by suggesting, "I am just trying to respect the time of the other individual," the decidedly-less-altruistic truth behind my chronological demons is almost certainly linked to an inner desire to feel as though I am the Captain of My Own Destiny, able to make and fulfill commitments that lesser mortals might find daunting. So yes, I really do want to show respect to other individuals by being prompt, but lurking just below the surface of this congenial iceberg is the far-greater mass representing dedication to my own agenda and self-image.

Thankfully, God has been at work in my heart of late by introducing an extraordinary amount of ambiguity into my life. The various tools that He has used to sharpen and fine-tune a God-honoring sense of helplessness have caught my attention such that I have had to return time and again to that famously-frustrating passage of Scripture that demands I recognize that I am not, after all, in charge of anything at all:
James 4:13-17 (ESV)
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit" - yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
The Word of the Lord is very clear on the subject of control, Who has it and who does not. Whenever my mind is right with God and my faith is firing on at least six of its eight cylinders, I find a tremendous amount of release and comfort in the very-obvious realization that my very next breath is borrowed from God, the Source of all life and breath (Acts 17:24-25) and that I can do nothing apart from Him (John 15:5). I know that most Christians already "know" this truth and can easily pick out the correct response on a multiple-choice exam, but knowing these truths is one thing; embedding Christ's Lordship and ultimate control of our lives such that we live out real belief in the day-to-day is something else altogether.

As you read this, I am personally aware of a tremendous amount of ambiguity in my own life as well as the lives of just about everyone I come into contact with. And while we worry and fret over the issues of life - both big and small - it can be tempting to lose sight of the divine Sovereign Who orchestrates everything, even the rebellion and unbelief of humankind, into a perfect masterpiece of His predetermined making. Of course our choices and cooperation really matter. Of course we are to seek His will at every twist and turn in the roadway of life, and He is faithful and just to use even our mistakes or misinterpretations to His glory, should we consistently commit our works to His care as we go along.

"Will I find a job?" "Where will the money come from?" "Will my family ever be reconciled?" "How much longer do I have to live?" There are several people within the community of The Crossing wrestling with big-ticket questions like this every single day. As the stakes get higher and higher in the ambiguity game, the natural man's tendency - certainly that of a punctuality freak like myself - is to seek to manipulate and control, running onto the bridge of the Starship MyLife's Enterprise and begin barking out orders to whoever might be willing to respond. It's often telling, I have found, to look closer and try to discern, "At what point, precisely, did the thought of going to prayer enter the scene?" Too often, the answer is, "Later than it should have."

As much as I like to pretend that I have ultimate control over anything, and as much as I may use my own neurosis over arrival times to trick myself into believing that even the tiniest of corners in the cosmos is subject to my command, the truth is that living out of command-and-control offers little (if any) real peace.

As the book of James so vividly makes plain, we are all kidding ourselves by imagining that we can do anything at all apart from God's will. Into the ambiguity of Dec. 10, 2012, by His will and with His agreement and consent, I just might enjoy a lunch of leftover chili prepared by my wife's hands. But I might also find myself having lunch with a very broken soul who needs to talk. As of this writing, I don't know what God has in mind for my lunch hour, let alone the bigger issues of my life currently residing in a huge morass of ambiguity that I like to call "my" life.

His will be done in my life today, lunch hour and all. The Lord has been exceedingly gracious to "meet me inside the ambiguity" time and time again these past few weeks. Maybe it's time for me to relinquish something I never really had control of anyway, to His good purposes.
Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Proverbs 16:9
In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

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