Tom admits his disappointment: more than halfway through life, he figured he wouldn’t feel so… What?
He’s not longing for more material resources or possessions. No more physical strength, prowess or ability. He’s not looking to stack up more accomplishments or greater success. Instead, he feels a deficit of understanding — that baseline of knowledge, experience and self-consciousness needed to live a life that really matters.
“I’m still in the dark. Is my whole life to be lived out in the shadows of what I don’t know and don’t understand?” Living with his “knowledge shortage,” he feels sentenced to a “half-assed” life.
He’s not wishing to rush his demise; he wants as many days as this life or the good Lord will give him. But he is concerned about being perpetually unready. It’s leaves him feeling as if life is just happening to him. And perhaps he’s missing something, or not living up to his potential.
It doesn’t surprise me that we find our limited vision, well, ”surprising.” When we were children, few of us looked up at our parents, even in their most vulnerable moments, and had any notion that they were moving through their lives — and shouldering responsibility for ours — without all the answers. Sometimes without a clue! As their children, it was probably better that we couldn’t tell how often they were winging it!
And unless someone you look up to, someone you recognize as “wise,” turns around to let you in on this one of life’s secrets, how can we know what not to expect? Until we come upon it ourselves…
But how many of us then figure it’s some failure on our part. Or something wrong in our life. Everyone else knows, if not all the answers, at least enough. While you are in the dark. Left waiting. “Maybe next year, or after my kids are grown up, or once I’ve reached a certain professional level. Maybe then I’ll have a better understanding, and won’t quite feel so much like Mr. McGoo… only making it through life on blind luck.”
Tom’s predicament reminds me of someone else, my friend we’ll call “the eternal Ph.D. candidate.” She’s researching for her dissertation. She began before my sons were born! “Oh, you just don’t understand: there’s always more data to gather.”
A book that’s just come out.
A paper she heard that was given last year; she’s trying to track it down.
Or she has to run something past a colleague, or hear from her advisor.
Ok, she’d done an outline a couple of times. But has she even written the first sentence of the introduction?
I could rightly be accused of winging it more than I should. There are times I could do better with more preparation. But my philosophy is we make our path walking. Or build the plane flying. I like the second phrase better: it captures some of the real risk involved in heading off not quite ready and into the unknown. But with either image, the destination is an unknown. How we’ll get there is unknown too! What choice do we have really?
Here’s another reason I believe in “ready — or more likely NOT, get going.” It’s a bit ominous to bring up that whole ‘mortality thing’ (that our denial would rather leave off the table!). But friends, our clocks are always ticking…
If you try and get everything lined up just so, wait until it’s all figured out, you end up wasting too much precious time! There’s only so big a window of opportunity… Don’t wait away the only life you have!
There’s also the chance that getting started earlier, you might run across some of experience and learning you’re longing for. Don’t we learn more from our trials and errors than walking with sure-footed certainties?
Launch early. Learn what you can along the way. Wing the rest.
Yes, you could miss the boat. Or getting on the wrong ship. But can you figure out a way to live except by living? Mistakes are part of the package tour. The ride usually takes us places we never expected, maybe never wished to go. That’s the offer life makes: “I’m going to take you somewhere. Let’s see where!”
Or you can stubbornly try and stay at the starting gate…
I am living my life as a less than scientific experiment. I haven’t figured out all the influences, much less identified all the elements. I know there are responses, even chain reactions I am totally unaware of. I can’t imagine the results. And the tentative hypotheses I have, they may well turn out to be completely wrong.
Living a life that is not only, thank God, unfinished, but one that’s happening before I’m ready… Before I’m up to it!
Oh, the years have taught me some things. I am especially grateful for the patience and humility I’ve gleaned. Maybe those two add up to a deepening sense of comfort with who I am (blemishes and all).
But, how often, all I can pray is that my auto-pilot is fully operational. And that those voices that seem to be coming over the radio really are some control tower somewhere that somehow can see a bigger picture than I.
Tom’s predicament. My unpreparedness. The eternal Ph.D.’s paralysis.
In the midst of all our mist — especially in night skies and during life’s storms… when the windshield’s all fogged up, and earth is so far below, completely unseeable, not to mention unreachable in any safe way — I’m glad for the gift of faith.
The promise of grace when I can’t know, but have to live anyway. Mr. McGoo to be sure. But something far better than blind luck.
Faith wherein I have Jesus as my clue. The North star I see a glimpse of here or there as if running behind the clouds. Or sometimes even as that beacon of light I think I can follow, leading me home, to safety, even through a glass darkly.
Yes, most of life is incomprehensible, but faith provides a container for all the questions. And some promising points of light to guide along the way. And the hope that we are never alone.
Launch early. Learn what you can along the way. Wing the rest.
See you in church,
In early August, looking towards a few weeks of vacation, I invited people to guest-author an E-pistle to give me a break. Thanks to Michael J., Elsa and Margaret R. for writing for us. At that same time, a Presbyterian colleague of mine, Katie, sent me an essay. I don’t know what prompted her. But I appreciated the reassurance — long before I realized they were my own words I was reading. (Lord, I moved myself: how hucmiliating.) But before I knew I had volunteer authors, I figured Teresa could choose and recyle a few past E-pistles, this being one of them. I’m back from vacation, and we are back in the Sanctuary at 11 each Sunday. There will be a fresh E-pistle next week.