In the past couple of months, I have had several people re-enter my life that I had not seen in some time. In the intervening years, their lives (and mine) have seen significant change: children have been born, or entered school, or moved out of the house; marriages have undergone challenges or even ended in divorce; new careers have been established, new hobbies acquired, religious and political preferences have shifted.
I have no doubt that I (in my present setting and life stage) seem just as different to my new-old friends as their new selves seem to me. And seeing each other after time apart has highlighted how very much can change in very little time. These changes were not necessarily observable when we were in them, but distance has unveiled the lack of stasis that is inherent in life.
Experience tells us that our circumstances and our very selves are always changing. But we (or at least I) stubbornly hold onto the belief that who I am and what I experience NOW will surely stay the same. (Never mind that that has never, not ever been the case.) In the past, my friends and I assumed the situations we all found ourselves in were static; time upended our assumptions, exposing the instability within our presumably fixed lives. Still, it is difficult to translate those lessons to the present; it remains hard to see beyond the here and now to acknowledge that in a few years from today, we may be re-meeting our present friends after time apart and once again taking stock of how much has changed without our notice.
As I acknowledge the fluidity of life that occurs under my own nose when I’m not paying attention, I become aware of how much I am missing, and how little I can see (let alone understand) of what is going on in my own life and especially in the lives of those around me. Recognizing that the circumstances that felt so big not too long ago were just a small blip on the radar of my life heightens my awareness of the finitude of each moment. I am humbled to realize how much more there was to my life than what I saw or felt at the time. And I grow ever more thankful for a Creator who DOES see the big picture—not just of my life, but of all of eternity.
When we step away from our lives for a bit, we are able to look back and see God’s hand at work in the past. Beyond that, we become better able (or at least more willing) to trust that His hand is at work now—even when it is invisible, and could remain so. The pieces might fall into places, but they may not; some of our biggest challenges will be solved, some questions answered, some hurdles understood through hindsight. But parts of our life stories may remain shrouded in uncertainty and heartache. We may never understand why God took that child when He did, or why He allowed us to fail at that job, or what He was doing when He led us to a new church home. Thankfully, our inability to see the full picture of our stories does not mean a complete portrait does not exist. Our incomplete perception does not mean that God was absent, or that He was uncaring, or that He made a mistake.
We know that God works all things together for our good; if we do not see our present circumstances as good, it is not God’s handiwork that is flawed, but our own eyesight. To quote John Lennon, “everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end” (OR we need to rethink our understanding of “okay” and “end”!).
I love Bishop Robert Baron’s take on this:
I would observe that none of us can see more than a tiny swatch of that immense canvas on which God works. . . . Imagine that one page of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was torn away and allowed to drift on the wind. Imagine further that that page became, in the course of several months, further ripped and tattered so that only one paragraph of it remained legible. And finally imagine that someone who had never heard of Tolkien’s rich and multi-layered story came, by chance, upon that single paragraph. Would it not be the height of arrogance and presumption for that person to declare that those words made not a lick of sense?
How much more arrogant is it for us to presume an understanding of God’s plan from our seats in the peanut gallery! Given our impossibly limited point of view, we cannot claim to understand the inner workings of the tapestry our Lord is weaving in this world.
This news might be a hard pill for our control-hungry selves to swallow. The good news—maybe even the best news—is that although our understanding is murky, and both past and future feel uncertain, we can trust in the faithful guidance of Christ who holds our hand in the darkness. He may not choose to expose every shadowed corner just yet, but His light will illuminate the path He wants us to follow. His immediate plans for us will be made clear, and He will walk with us as we discern them. He WILL be there—because He is trustworthy, and because He is good.
I am able to see God’s goodness in the life trajectories of my friends. Their lives have not played out as expected, but God was there nonetheless. He was there for me, too; even when life felt stagnant or was moving in ways that at the time did not make a lick of sense. And I trust He is with me now, in this humble-jumble of an indiscernible but ultimately VERY GOOD life.