Thursday, March 17, 2005

Grace in the Face of Uncertainty

Philippians 4:11-12 (New International Version)

11 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

I think that sometimes folks assume that if things are going well for you right now they’ve always been going well. Well, to paraphrase from Porgy and Bess, “it ain’t necessarily so.”

Last night at our men’s group I think I finally found my self in full accord with John Eldredge. There’s a real element of unpredictability in the Christian’s walk of faith. While our destination is certain, the journey we take has twists and turns. It’s what Eldredge sees as the “adventure:”

“The only way to live in this adventure – with all its danger and unpredictability and immensely high stakes – is in an ongoing intimate relationship with God. The control we so desperately crave is an illusion. Far better to give it up in exchange for God’s offer of companionship, set aside the stale formulas so that we enter into an informal friendship.”

Nancy and I are going through a really wonderful time right now. But there were times in our lives together when we had to keep walking on despite immense uncertainties that could have pulled us under.

When we first got married I had a “marginal” job with a trucking company. About the only thing I could say about the job was that it was a paycheck. It wasn’t fun at all, and definitely wouldn’t have qualified as the thing I would most loved to have done with my life when I finished graduate school.

But a job was, of course, a necessity. And I felt I had to stick with this one because the economy was in really bad shape then. That, coupled with my financial responsibilities, kept me “locked in” to a very unpleasant situation.

There came a time, though, when everything came to a head. I found out that there were some really serious ethics problems at the company’s highest levels. I tried a few times to bring them to my management’s attention and was ignored. After those attempts I took it that my management didn’t care and didn’t want to do anything about the problem. Nancy saw the toll that it was taking on me and told me that the best option for me might be to quit and find another job.

While I really wanted to leave, I also felt the weight of the financial responsibilities we had. I just couldn’t bring myself to leave, no matter how miserable and unfulfilled I felt.

About a month or so after my discoveries, at a very low point for me professionally, Nancy and I had a conversation over breakfast. “Slick,” she said. “This job is making you miserable. You can’t keep being a part of something you believe is wrong. You need to quit.” I knew she was right, but I was having a lot of difficulty seeing into a rosy financial future if I did. “Coach, I can’t quit. I mean, what are we going to do without the money coming in?”
“We’ll make it alright. You can find something else.”
“Lord, I don’t know. Jobs aren’t that easy to find right now.”
“What’s the worst thing that could happen to us?”
“We’ll go broke.”
I thought that would startle her back into reality, but Nancy would have none of it. “And?”
“And what?”
“Is that the worst thing you can think of happening?”
“I’d say that’s pretty bad for starters. How about the house? We could lose it? And I’ve got to take care of my kids.”
“I know you have to take care of the kids, but you need to think about what’s right. You do what’s right and the other things will be taken care of. If you do what’s right I’ll be right with you and so will God.”


In the end we resolved that my leaving the job was the right thing to do. And while I probed for signs of certainty that everything would be seamless, there were none coming. I couldn’t be certain that I’d be rewarded for doing what was right, but that was not the real point. I had to do what was right.

And, so, I quit. One week went by and I couldn’t find a job. Then a second week. And a third. I began to get discouraged.

It was surprising to me in looking back at those times at how quickly I almost gave in. I didn’t say anything to Nancy at first, but I had determined that I would go back to the employer I’d left, make an apology, grovel if you will, and get my old job back. It was at breakfast again that I told her my intentions. “I’m going to go back and ask for my old job back.” Nancy sat in stunned silence for about a minute and then exploded.” “You’re going to do what?”
“I’m going to ask for my old job back. God, Coach, we need the money.”
“No we don’t need the money so bad that you’d violate your principles.” Then her anger boiled over. She picked up one of the breakfast rolls and threw it across the table at me. “You just go ahead Phil…..Go ahead back….. You do and you won’t be the man I married. I married better than that, or at least I thought I did.” With that she got up and walked out of the dining room, leaving me to my own devices.

I think by now you get my point. In the end I didn’t go back and in the end we made it. The days were difficult, but we made it. One of the things I worried about happened. We came very close to hitting bottom financially. But none of the other things I feared did. Nancy and I drew closer together through it all and we both drew closer to God as well. And the great lesson we drew from those days was that the important things in life can’t be taken from you, they can only be surrendered.

Folks who know us now find it hard to believe that we ever went through difficult times like that. We seem, in their minds, to have things “together.” It’s very flattering, but not entirely true. The only thing we have “together” is the faith and knowledge, born from experience and given to us by grace, that, while life is full of uncertainties, our relationship with one another and with God is the one constant that will keep us grounded whether we’re on the highest mountain or the lowest valley. It’s that truth that binds us together. And while the valley seems far less pleasant than the mountain, we’ve also learned that we can never allow either to be a stumbling block to the most important thing in life:

Romans 8:35-39 (King James Version)

35 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
37Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

2 comments:

James Fletcher Baxter said...

As long as I have been a sold-out-to-the-Lord Christian, I have known that Grace affords Integrity to the Believer. In the face of challenge it is Integrity, Integrity, Integrity.

With Integrity, everything falls into its proper place and Order; sequence of Value and Purpose. Without Integrity, everything loses Meaning...

When I still walked in my ego-centric predicament, I was the center of my experience; a natural man. When I was Born-from-above; Jesus became my center of all things.

Paradox of paradoxi, He came to dwell in me... No mystery: I worship His Integrity.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

As long as I have been a sold-out-to-the-Lord Christian, I have known that Grace affords Integrity to the Believer. In the face of challenge it is Integrity, Integrity, Integrity.

With Integrity, everything falls into its proper place and Order; sequence of Value and Purpose. Without Integrity, everything loses Meaning...

When I still walked in my ego-centric predicament, I was the center of my experience; a natural man. When I was Born-from-above; Jesus became my center of all things.

Paradox of paradoxi, He came to dwell in me... No mystery: I worship His Integrity.