No Event is Neutral (& Life is Sometimes Strange)
There is certainly nothing news-worthy about having a terrible cold, like the one I’ve had, nor about the fact that I haven’t updated my weekly blog for a month. Now, if God sneezed, that would be NEWS!
As self-centered as I (and the rest of the human race) can be, I do have enough awareness to know that everyone isn’t clamoring to know about my cold. (And I can only wish that everyone was clamoring for my newest blog posts!) For Ron S. to sneeze, that is just another chapter in a lifetime of never making it through a winter without a major cold or flu. I doubt that all of them put together have changed the world very much – though who knows what might or might not have happened if different choices, different timing, and different meetings had occurred.
That off-handed remark now has me thinking about 1967, when I went to Ghana to decide about whether or not to join a mission team. I ended up spending half of my time in Ghana in bed, with what the doctor diagnosed as malaria, but what must surely have been food or water poisoning. What would have happened if I had been healthy that whole trip? Would I have made a different decision? Would our third child still have been born? Would any of our children have met their spouses, or given birth to the grandchildren we have (and now great grandchildren, too)? Since each of these children, spouses, and grandchildren are impacting the world in pretty meaningful ways, perhaps I do not want to too quickly conclude—as I just did a moment ago—that “all of [my illnesses] put together haven’t changed the world very much.”
And, if we had moved to Ghana, it is highly unlikely that we would have moved to Urbana, IL in 1970 to spend three years or so in graduate school, and then ended up staying 40+ years because we so loved the community of faith that we found. In 1970 I would have never predicted that my wife and I, neither of whom had ever before lived in the same house for more than four years and who had no intention of spending life in the Midwest, would stay 40-plus years! I would also not have predicted that a person who was sure he was going to spend his life as a professor, and had every external indication and sign that would happen, would become a pastor (one who, in 2012, would be sitting in a coffee shop writing a blog, no less!).
All of this reflection comes from my recent attempts to take seriously the challenges of the letter of James. In chapter 1, James claims that no situation is neutral, and that every situation is both a temptation and God’s opportunity. And he is explicit about the fact that none of us know enough about the decisions we are making in life to navigate them without asking God for wisdom (practical insight and success).
So, back to my life today. For the first time in our lives, Donna and I went away for a week to the warm south in February. By the time the driving, the beach, and then visiting relatives were over, we were away from home a couple of weeks. We arrived back rested and ready to engage life—only to contract the vicious cold that is going around. First I spent 10 days “worth nothing,” and then Donna came down with it. I hate being sick, and am not much in the mood to talk to anyone—including God—when I don’t feel well. But in spite of the curmudgeon and cynic that I become when ill, this time has been a bit different due to God’s word to me in the letter of James.
I have been able to honestly say to God, “You know I’m not much of a talker when I am ill, but I do want to confess that I am not wise enough to know what changes may have occurred in my life, or anyone else’s, because of this past month’s strange twists and turns. Would you please, be present and make my life your opportunity?”
I know it doesn’t sound like much, and it certainly isn’t the center of what is going on in our world, but it actually is a pretty real step of growth for me. Thank you, Father.