Mrs. Weeks, my senior English teacher at Waltrip High School used to say, “Sometimes I think ‘Well…’ and then again I don’t know.” I know the feeling. Understanding all that is going on in one’s life is not so easy to do. We try. We really try. We get all the pieces out and lay them on the table and move them around and try to make sense of them. Like assembling a 1000 piece jig saw puzzle (which, by the way, is near the top of things I really do not like doing), we look for corner pieces, straight edges, colors that seem to go together, anything to begin making sense of the disarray scattered in front of us. One of our disadvantages is that we don’t have the puzzle box with the picture on it. We’re not even sure what it is this thing is supposed to look like when we’re done.
So the best we can do is make stuff up. We fictionalize. We rationalize. We assign meaning to events and episodes whether there is meaning there or not. We ascribe motives to people that will make their behaviors make sense in our plot. (At the same time they are making up motives for us so that their plot will cohere.) Or to return to my puzzle metaphor, we use an Exacto knife to trim up pieces that don’t fit and we force them into place. We must do this. We human beings are a meaning-driven people. We are confident that somehow it all makes sense and that it does so in a way that we can know and understand. Sometimes I think, “Well…”
Occasionally I can see patterns, connections, mysterious sequences, and synchronicities in the puzzle-piece events of my life that give me reason to hope that I might soon grasp the big picture. Sometimes it is like those pictures that you stare at until they become 3-D and you see a picture of a sailing vessel or a dinosaur and then you blink and lose it. But just a glimpse is enough to keep me fooling with the pieces. I pray and I hope that God will give me enough clues to let me figure it out.
And then again, I don’t know. At times I think stuff just happens. Like today. I planned to mow the farm property. I prepared to do that. It was a beautiful morning for it. I just got the shift lever on the 1998 Murray lawn tractor repaired and it was working perfectly. I filled it with gas. I checked the oil. I donned my work gloves and turned the key. It started right up. Then, one lap into the section of the lawn I was working on, the engine experienced catastrophic failure. It belched lots of white smoke for about 30 seconds and then stopped, never to restart.
OK, I knew that was coming someday. I just didn’t want it to be today. So I decided that I was not prepared to replace it today – need to do some research before I do that. Instead I would go into town and rent a riding mower and take care of the place before it reverted to the jungle it was last year. I pushed the mower into the garage, closed the door and walked over to Willie. That’s when I saw that his left rear tire was flat. All the way flat.
So I located the jack and tire tools, opened the manual to page 579 and did my best to decipher the instructions on getting to the spare and operating the jack. In fifteen minutes he had a new tire on and we headed into town for repairs. I found a rental, but they wanted $135 for the day, and knowing that I would need to replace the mower, I didn’t really want to spend that much for a rental, so I passed on that. When I got back to the farm I sharpened my hoe and went after the paper leaf mulberry trees who once ruled the backyard and who were already plotting a takeover. I removed about a bazillion of them with a hoe and lots of sweat by noon.
So what does all this mean? Weeds grow. Things break. Sometimes life is a series of unfortunate events, not just one. I don’t think they really mean anything. These are minor inconveniences, as are most of the things we complain about. They are problems to be solved, which most of life is. Sometimes I think, “Well…”
Meanwhile the puzzle pieces I ponder are something else. A van wreck in Arizona with seven of our church members on mission to the Navajo. I learned of this while in the middle of my hoeing. A war in Afghanistan and Iraq that has occupied seven years, cost more money than I can imagine, and that has taken thousands of lives –and now my son is there. A world with plenty of food where people starve. A world with more wealth and more poverty than can be imagined. Babies that die and the elderly that suffer. The list goes on. And then again, I don’t know.
I believe (which is itself a way of knowing) that there is a big picture. It involves the Kingdom of God, God putting the world upright again through his rule and reign. I believe that Kingdom is already present among us, like yeast in the dough, permeating and transforming. I believe that I can choose to side with that Kingdom Among Us and contribute to its effect. But it is still early morning. Only the first rays of dawn are appearing, driving away some of the darkness. Eventually it will be noon. All the darkness will be gone. Not even the shadows will survive that light. I believe that the Kingdom of God will come and God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.
I am not always able to grasp how the events of my life fit in to all that. I’m not sure I’m supposed to grasp that. My assignment ultimately is pretty simple: Love God and Love People. Change the tire. Chop the weeds. Pray. Don’t be afraid. Risk. Hope. Sometimes I think, “Well…”
About the author:
Dr. Robert Creech has been a member of the Truett Seminary faculty since 2009 and serves as Professor of Christian Ministires and Director of Pastoral Ministries. You can keep up with Dr. Creech on his blog: The Journey Continues.