Living with Uncertainty
Last night I met with a very wise group of people. Although there is no guarantee that wisdom comes with age, I don’t think it is a coincidence that they are all over 60. I also don’t think it is a coincidence that they have all lived through enough chapters of life to have discovered how little control we have over the course of our lives.
The unpredictability of life is summed up in the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 30. The first six verses of this prayer proclaim what God has done for the person of faith. God has “lifted me up…not let me my enemies triumph…restored me to health…brought me up from the dead.” This person has been so blessed by God that it is hard for them to imagine that life won’t always be good. In fact, God’s faithfulness makes them feel invincible: “You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”
But then without warning, everything changes. The previously invincible one now says to God: “Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear.” The prayer doesn’t tell us exactly what happened. All we know is that without warning and seemingly over night everything has changed. So much for always feeling secure. So much for an undisturbed life. So much for feeling as strong as the mountains.
Isn’t this the way life is? One minute everything is humming along and then comes the unexpected diagnosis. One minute everything is humming along and then you get a call from your kid’s principal. One minute everything is humming along and then you are let go from your job. One minute everything is humming along and then you find out about the affair.
Wise people like the ones I met with last night have learned through years of experience that life can change dramatically over night; there is just too much evidence to continue believing otherwise. But their wisdom doesn’t end there. Their wisdom is also what they have learned about how you survive amidst such uncertainty. First, they have learned that prayer is indispensable. The need for periods of silence in God’s presence is critical to their survival. In that silence, they might be pleading with God as the psalmist does (v.9), or they might just be sitting there realizing that because God is with them they have what they need. Secondly, they have learned that you can’t survive the twists and turns of this life alone. You need other people to support you along the way.
Of course, it is not only older people who discover this wisdom; this kind of wisdom can come earlier in life. However, it is my experience that when we are younger we often live in denial. We assume that the uncertainty of life—at least in our case—is an aberration, and one day everything will become much more predictable. As we get older, we begin to realize that fantasy will never come true and reluctantly begin to accept the new reality.
Accepting the new reality doesn’t mean that life will always be a heavy, burdened experience. In fact, in spite of the fact that the wheels came of the cart for the person of faith in Psalm 30, their plea for help was answered: “You have turned my wailing into dancing/you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.”
Let us accept the unpredictability of life, rely on God and other people in the midst of life’s uncertainties, and wait for God to act in a transforming way.