26 March, 2015

Morning Prayer: Nothing in Parentheses

A few years ago I taught at a small Christian school where each day began with a brief devotional time called Morning Prayer.  Over the two weeks leading up to Easter I'm publishing posts derived from devotionals I shared or experiences I had during that year, all having to do with presence and absence, generosity and loss.

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During the 6 months that I lived in London I took a few days to visit my brother-in-law's family in Sweden.  Just a few days before visiting them I had been blindsided by a heartbreaking disappointment that was making me question a lot of decisions I had made in the past. I feared that I had made so many mistakes that I had ruined my future and now the rest of my life would have to be Plan B, or C or D... (So dramatic)  I also had a big decision looming on the horizon, and my distress over the past paralyzed me so much that I feared making that decision. 
My brother-in-law's mother, Karin, picked me up at the train station.  On the drive back to her house she asked me how I was doing, and I opened up to her.  I began describing some of my discouragement over the past.  I couldn't make sense of some of the things that had happened to me -- some of the careful decisions I had made seemed to have been complete dead ends.  I thought that I had wasted time, squandered opportunities, and probably disappointed God.    

Karin is very gentle but also very strong, qualities born of a life filled with adventure and some unexpected sadness.  Some things will probably never be explained or make sense until heaven.  But she has learned to lean very heavily on the Lord, and when you speak with her you know without a doubt that this is a woman who trusts in His goodness and His plan.  She listened patiently (which was amazing because I was an emotional nightmare), and then she said just enough to remind me to keep a perspective on this situation that was truer and further-reaching than just my immediate emotions.  She looked at me and said, "For the Christian, nothing in life is in parentheses."  Nothing in life is in parentheses.  

How do we use parentheses?  When we write, we use parentheses to include thoughts or information that aren't essential to the whole.  They are peripheral, you might say.  I was treating some of my decisions -- or their consequences -- as parenthetical, things that in the end didn't seem to make any sense in the narrative of my life.  Some of them even seemed to have impeded or derailed the course of my life.  Karin's words reminded me of the fundamental difference in God's perspective; to God, my decisions and experiences matter, and they are each a part of His complete plan for me.  With a few years' hindsight I can look back and see that some of those things that seemed like dead ends or detours actually were the richest sources of new knowledge of God, new ways of learning through experience that He is patient and powerful and generous and surprising.  Even small or "pointless" situations were His intense pursuit -- how on earth could I put them in parentheses?  

Writing this now is deeply convicting, challenging, as I face circumstances at work that tempt me to a despairing attitude about the story that God is writing in my life.  Let me remember...Let me trust that whichever direction this story goes, the path is not outside of God's power.  No decision I make -- or the impact of others' decisions -- is parenthetical to His plan or can lessen His love for me.  Nothing is in parentheses.  There is always, only Plan A.

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