The last few weeks have been marked by some unexpected events:
The sudden death of a former neighbor just a few years older than me.
The surprising diagnosis of a serious illness in a dear friend.
The teenage son of another dear friend involved in a severe car accident.
The unexpected death of the kind and gentle associate pastor of our first church home.
We live in a world where unexpected, unanticipated, unplanned for things happen ALL THE TIME. Sometimes they’re good things, sometimes they’re bad. The point? Every day the unexpected occurs.
For years I tried to pray the unexpected away, tried to ward it off with scriptural spells and fail-safe incantations. My efforts didn’t work very well, and they wearied my faith. Accidents still happened, problems still cropped up, people still got sick, and sometimes they died. When those things happened, I was left treading water in a sea of fear, doubt, and self-condemnation with a lot of “if onlys.” If only I had more faith. If only I’d behaved better. If only I’d prayed more. If only, if only, if only…
Even worse than the self-loathing and perpetual sense of failure was the opposite response: Climbing atop a brittle throne of self-righteousness, judgment, and holiness-by-works, the whispers that bad things happened because the victims were “in sin,” or because they “opened a door” to an attack from hell in some way. After all, this line of thinking surmises, if we just did everything right all the time, if we always listened to and obeyed the Holy Spirit perfectly, stayed out of strife, never made a negative confession, kept our hearts and minds and eyes and hands holy and pure and clean, tithed faithfully, prayed diligently, attended church every time the doors were open, took communion, prayed in the spirit more…
You get the picture, right? And yet I think we’re all aware of the terrible truth: No matter how good we are, *stuff* still happens. We are rarely privy to the deepest inner workings of the why’s and wherefore’s of our planet. In truth, we probably don’t want to know.
After much soul and scripture searching, I’ve come to this: The unexpected is a part of life. We can’t hide from it, control it, twist it, prevent it, stop it, or escape it. All we can do is respond to it. In fact, the ONLY thing we have control over is our response.
We can respond with fear, with anger, with sorrow, with judgment, with self-pity (and these tend to be our knee-jerk reactions)… or we can respond with love, hope, acceptance, trust, mercy, and generosity. The negative response is easy, it’s the default of the flesh. The positive response, especially in the face of tragedy and loss, is hard. Really, really hard. And it doesn’t come from a superficial, casual kind of spirituality. A positive response to the unexpected comes from the depths of the soul, a place we have to visit on purpose; not by rote, not by obligation, not in hope of achievement or admiration, but because we are desperate for that connection to the eternal, the divine, that which is greater than ourselves.
Have you been forced to face the unexpected? No matter what your initial reaction was, you can still choose your response, and your choice will set your compass for the future.
The unexpected happens. We choose our response.
Our response becomes our legacy.
I want my legacy to be one of light, life, and love.
I’m working on my response to life’s unexpected events. How about you?