Thursday, October 15, 2015

Open-ended Waiting

     I was feeling antsy. I was questioning things in my life, wondering if I have become complacent. I thought of making changes. I started making plans. I thought, if A doesn’t happen, then B. And then if I go with B, then C and D has to happen too. I started to get way more open minded about my future and what I was going to do with it. That isn’t altogether a bad thing, but for different reasons, some very practical, some spiritual, I know that this isn’t the time for big changes. This is a time to stay put. This is a time to wait. 
     But plans make us feel safe don’t they? Plans give us a sense of control. I know of my natural tendency to try to predict and control the future. If I think through all possibilities, I will be safe. And yet I am making plans and decisions before their time.
     Scripture has some interesting things to say about making plans for the future. For one, there’s this from Proverbs: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day will bring” (Prov 27:1 NIV). Then there’s this in James 4:13-16:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil (NIV).
While, “all such boasting is evil” sounds pretty rough, I think I better understand what these mean. It’s not really about making plans per se. It’s about the attitude behind the plans. I find it interesting how the greek and hebrew is translated to the word “boast.” And then there’s the phrase, “arrogant schemes.” There is an arrogance to presuming about the future. There’s an arrogance to thinking that we can control the future in our plans. And more than that, it means that instead of leaning on God, and trusting in him, we lean on ourselves. 
     We lean on our own understanding when we are instead supposed to trust in the Lord. This is one of my biggest weaknesses. I like to plan. I like to predict. I like to try to guess at things I don’t know and can’t know. I freak out and forget to stop and ask God to be involved, or I put too much pressure on myself to figure something out when God is more than willing to be there and let me lean on him. I know from experience that it is exhausting to lean on your own understanding with your plans, when you encounter problems that make you go step by step through situations that scare you, and even in interpreting scripture. I want to control things because it makes me feel safe. Ultimately, when I do that, I am saying that I am more reliable than God. That’s probably why “all such boasting is evil.” There is a idolatry that happens when we trust in anything more than God. 
     We make a decision to trust someone based on two things: is that person capable of what I trust them to do, and is that person of good character. Who is more powerful or good than God? But that is what is said when we choose to trust in something else. The money is more powerful. This person won’t let me down, but God might. I don’t know what God is up to, but I know what I am up to. I can fulfill my hopes and wishes better than God can because I don’t want to submit them to him, and what if he decides to take some of them away? We hold tighter to our control when we think like this. We become suspicious of God. And with that, we are deprived of the kind of intimacy that he wishes to have with us and the peace that comes with allowing him to work in our lives. 
     In my case, I feel that this is a time to let go of trying to control things and wait on God. An excerpt from one of Henri Nouwen’s books has been a major source of comfort as I learn how to do this. One of many wonderful parts of this piece of writing is this in which he talks about open-ended waiting (the italics are mine) : 
To wait open-mindedly is an enormously radical attitude towards life. So is to trust that something that will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction.That indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control. 
     Even when we wait for something specific, we wrongly try to know how God will fulfill it. And whether we wait for something specific or not, relegating the future to our own plans and imagination puts limits on our lives. What might God be able to do if we would unclench our fists and truly surrender to him? 

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