In fall 2016, I was asked to write and deliver the eulogy of a friend. As I reflected on my friend’s life and the part of it that intersected my own, it occurred to me how full my life is with people I would never have expected to encounter and how many relationships I have forged with unlikely characters. These relationships have meant much to me, have changed me as a person, and have influenced the direction of my life.
The circumstances and backgrounds of my friend and me were completely opposite. He was in his late eighties; I am in my early thirties. He was talkative and outgoing; I am quiet and reserved. He was from a rural Kentucky town; I am from a town some three-and-a-half hours southwest in Tennessee. There was no reason our paths should have ever crossed or that we would grow as close as we did.
We never know who might enter our lives or when. I’ve heard it called “providence” or “good fortune” or “our life’s path.” I am not sure what I would call it. But the older I become, the more I see the beauty and grace in the unexpected twists and turns life takes, and the more I see God’s hand in it all. The little turning points are the best — the ones we hardly notice until, distanced from that moment in our lives, we look back and think, What if that hadn’t happened? Where would I be? Who would I be?
The lives of many characters in scripture met at unexpected and unpredictable moments — often setting the stage for God to act in mighty and wondrous ways: Elijah and the angel, Joshua and Rahab, Ruth and Boaz, Jesus and the first disciples, Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, and, as the cover art for this issue depicts, Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses.
No one knows the shape his or her life will take. We do not know what the journey from any one point in life to another will look like, whom we will encounter along the way, or what unanticipated events will occur. A baby rescued from the bulrushes by Pharaoh’s daughter led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Who could have imagined it?
I run into trouble when I try too hard to control the outcome of every situation and wear myself out trying to make things happen the way I think they should. Sometimes I wonder about the opportunities that I have missed or think that I have missed. But I look back and see all the wonderful deeds God has done in my life, most of which I had not planned nor set out to do. I couldn’t have planned them or made them happen had I tried. This should tell me something.
As I was driving home from my friend’s funeral, I reflected on all the unforeseen joy, wonder, and wisdom that he had brought me and which continue to guide my decisions and actions. Then I resolved in the days to come to do my best to live a life marked not by control but by trust — trust in God and trust that God knows what God is doing in my life and in the lives of those around me. If the pattern of my life and the lives described in scripture are any indication, I can know that even when the road gets tough, God is working something wonderful within me. I will encounter it around the next corner, seemingly out of nowhere.
Several meditations in this issue address relinquishing control to God — especially in unexpected and trying circumstances. You may want to read again the meditations for September 1, 2, 9, 13, 16, 17, 19, 23, 24, 25, and 29, and October 4, 5, 6, 8, 14, 16, 24, 25, and 26 before responding to the reflection questions below.
Questions for Reflection:
1. Name one person in your life who has played an important role in your Christian journey. How and when did you and this person meet? In what ways has he or she influenced and shaped your life?
2. Recall an unexpected “twist” or “turn” you have taken. What was occurring in your life at the time? In what ways did this event affect the direction of your life?
“Spiritual vitality in our churches stems from our openness to God’s transforming presence, not in anxious striving. Tending the soul of the congregation starts with attending to God’s presence in our lives as leaders, then bringing the same prayerful openness into the meetings and ministries of the church. Our work is to help the people to pay attention to, listen to, learn from, and live in the Spirit.” Read more.