“Our lives shuttle between an alteration of if only, what if, and as soon as…” Mark Buchanan The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath
This cyclical commute catches us all – one day we dodge traffic on the ‘If Only’ shuttle, peering through the window at the world as it rushes by, all the while wishing the view and the experience were different. If only that light was green instead of red, that door open instead of closed, that thing/event/moment had never happened, those words had never been spoken. If only my circumstances were different…Contrary to the Disney mantra warbled by Jiminy Cricket, wishful thinking, upon stars or otherwise, does not change reality.
Another day we board the ‘What If’ shuttle, hoping, perhaps, to play a more proactive role in determining both the route and the destination. What if we turn here, instead of there? Left, instead of right? Surely this road will lead to a more pleasing end. What if I try harder, work longer? What if I am more outgoing, or more entertaining, or a better mom, or…or…or… This shuttle ride never seems to end as it twists and turns through a myriad of possibilities that only lead to overwhelming confusion and disillusionment.
Other days we lumber along on the ‘As Soon As’ shuttle, experiencing numerous stops and delays as we anxiously await the perfect moment. As soon as that person moves forward, then I can too. As soon as they apologize, I can forgive. As soon as they leave, things will get better. As soon as I find the perfect friend/church/job/spouse, life will be wonderful. The ‘As Soon As’ shuttle spends a lot of time in traffic jams; in fact, it actually causes most of them.
I think there is another way to navigate life – one that abandons the need for a perfectly smooth ride, for problem-free expressways to perfect bodies, personalities, jobs, spouses, families, churches, friends…to perfect lives. It abides in the attitude that even though life is often challenging, it can and does have purpose. Even though the journey is not what I hoped or even expected, it is not without meaning. Even though I feel alone or even abandoned, I still have value. Even though I experience loss and pain and disappointment, comfort and encouragement carry me forward.
‘Even though’ does not seek to change reality through clinging to ‘if only‘, ‘what if‘, and ‘as soon as‘. While it is not a fatalistic attitude that passively accepts whatever life brings, it acknowledges that lived experience with all of its nuances, from the highest moments of joy to the deepest depths of despair, is part of God’s providential design and obediently steps into His purposes with full trust and expectant hope.
Perhaps, like the the prophet Habakkuk, we have a list of things that have left us acutely aware of the empty places in our lives:
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls…”
My list does not include a lack of figs, grapes, olives or sheep, but I certainly have one. It is not a short list.
What is important about Habakkuk’s list is the Even-Though attitude. No ‘what if‘, ‘if only‘, or ‘as soon as‘ … just an attitude that says even though there are things that have left me empty, disappointed, hungering, or lonely, there is a choice before me.
Even though (insert my list), “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights.” Hab. 3:17-19
By grace alone. Sola gratia.