“We get to be in charge of our character and values. God gets to be in charge of the future. Between those two realities is the great unfolding.”
That is how I ended my monthly contribution to the church newsletter earlier this month. I wrote the article because I believed that Bethany Presbyterian Church was probably going to be better served by the language of unfolding rather than the more traditional language of strategic planning.
In recent years I have adopted the stance of letting life unfold more and more. This has not come naturally to me. Early in my life planning served me well. If I wanted to buy a new bike within a year I just took the cost of the bike, divided it by twelve and saved that amount every month. On my first pilgrimage I had ten weeks to complete 4,000 miles. The calculator told me that I needed to ride 65 miles a day, six days a week in order to accomplish that. Some days were shorter, some longer. But the planning kept me pretty much on schedule.
But the problem with planning is that it just can’t take into account every surprising and unexpected circumstance. More than once I have returned to the church office after a short illness complaining, “Sickness. I hadn’t planned that into my calendar!” Sometimes it’s divorce or death, an accident, the emergency needs of a family member, a surprise snowstorm, a traffic jam, or a bout of depression.
We very rarely ever plan for such things, which is why I like the language of unfolding. Planning assumes that the world is going to play by the rules that we establish. Unfolding assumes that the world might change, but that our character and values will serve as the guide no matter how many curve balls life throws at us.
I really like the line that came to me (if I must say so myself!). I wrote it because I believe that any illusion of a predictable world has just about been completely shattered. Books that promise a 7-step process to this success or that reward haven’t adjusted to our new reality. Planning is a nice idea, but is only as solid as the world it is built on. And these days it feels like the world is built on quicksand rather than Prudential’s Rock of Gibraltar.
I feel both relief and a little terror when I say this line. Relief—because the line allows me to let go of any sense that the future is my sole responsibility. And terror—because I realize that the future isn’t my sole responsibility. Letting life unfold is wonderfully freeing and unnervingly frightening. I am relieved that I don’t HAVE to be in control and I grieve that I don’t GET to be in control.
But I have given up on making the future what I would like it to be. Rather I am letting my character lead me. I am letting my values choose the path like water seeking the lowest spot.
I like being in this place. I get to be in charge of my character. God gets to be in charge of the future. Between the two is the great, wonderful, unknown and terrifying unfolding. Between the two is a whole hell of a lot of trust!