It was a typical wintery drive on a snowy Trans-Canada Highway when my friend and I met a treacherous combination of too much wet snow and too little plowing. When a wheel left its groove and ventured ever so slightly off its course, we found ourselves in a terrifying spiral. Miraculously, we narrowly missed an oncoming vehicle by inches and eventually came to a complete stop facing in the opposite direction.
When a vehicle loses control, the temptation is to turn away from the spin to regain control. Instead, we should turn the wheel in the direction of the spin or “turn into the slide.” It seems wrong. It is very right. When things are spinning out of control, the solution might be found in the problem.
So, what do you do when life spins out of control? There may be a solution, but it may be counterintuitive. We are people who like control. Most guys like to be in charge and have control…if you don’t believe me, check to see who has the remote “control” in your home most of the time.
The even greater danger is that in the loss of external control, we can lose internal control.
This seemingly never-ending pandemic has been marked by a loss of control: health, jobs, freedoms, travel, and even death. The even greater danger is that in the loss of external control, we can lose internal control:
- relationally, and
The new reality thrust upon us has been hard for those who are used to being in control. But maybe now we are beginning to realize we were never really in control. We have also learned that it doesn’t take much to have our world spin out of control. It took only a microbe to stop the entire world in its tracks and change us forever.
The real question is less about how we get back control but what we can learn in the loss of control.
The real question is less about how we get back control but what we can learn in the loss of control. If we lean into the spin, we can learn to navigate the road ahead of us. How can we do that?
The Book of Exodus records THE exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt and into an unknown season of wilderness wanderings, unlike anything they had ever experienced. They were learning to be a mobile nation with new survival skills, but more importantly, they were learning to worship anew and to trust and follow God completely. Chapter 40 describes the mobile tabernacle design and construction completion, but the last 3 verses of the book of Exodus are particularly revealing when things are beyond our control:
‘Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted. The cloud of the Lord hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys.’ (Exodus 40:36-39)
The Israelites had no GPS, no map, no compass, downloaded directions, or even clarity on the plan; just a vision, hope, and a word from God that there would be a “promised land.” In this time of wandering, they faced the challenge of finding basic necessities, hostile enemies, as well as the internal challenges of questions, fears, doubts, and dissension. Yet, in this ancient narrative, we find some valuable lessons.
There are three things we can do when things are out of control:
Embrace more mystery, less clarity
All they had was a cloud: a cloud by day and a fire by night (but even the fire by night was inside the cloud). The cloud and fire, the visible signs of God’s presence, were the only guides for the Israelites. And here’s the thing: a cloud and fire do not speak of CLARITY as much as it does MYSTERY. God wasn’t inviting them to follow a meticulous course but a mysterious cloud. This was a real test of this trust and their obedience but one that, if they passed, would bring them to a land of promise. In our unpredictable and disorienting experience, God invites us to walk into the mystery. It’s in the mystery we find Him.
Focus on the process, not the particulars
The people of God would have loved to know the answers to what, when, where, and why. But God was taking them on a journey, a process to prepare them for His promises. We all desire answers to life’s questions, but God is more interested in the process than the particulars. It is important to keep our eyes on the process. We can leave the details to the One who cares for the minutia of our lives. The things that sometimes consume us are in the hands of a loving heavenly Father who knows the very number of hairs (or lack thereof) on our head.
Turn to the cloud, not control
Things are cloudy enough in the normal seasons of life but add in a pandemic, and things may feel entirely out of control. We are used to having all the technology, knowledge, resources, books, church, and community supports to ensure we stay in control. So being in a desert, literally or figuratively, with so many uncertainties is difficult and disruptive, to say the least.
But maybe the solution is in the cloud. Christian mystics terms this as “the Cloud of Unknowing.” In the cloud God dwells. In the cloud and fire, we find guidance and direction, but in the cloud, we also find God himself! Maybe this is less about having the answers and certainties but simply being, waiting, and learning the truth to “be still and know that I am God” (Psa. 46:10). And this is not passive but an active waiting where we listen, discern, learn, and turn into the spin through our spiritual disciplines:
- journaling, etc.
Maybe here we find the answers to our questions and the direction we seek.
For those of us who need control, that may be difficult to hear, but in God’s economy, it is the being and becoming that is paramount, not the going or the doing. If we would turn the times of unknowing into times of being:
- a son,
- a husband,
- a father,
- a Christ-follower,
…we might be less focused on what we’ve lost and more focused on who we are and whose we are.
When life seems to spin out of control, turn into the spin, lean into the moment and the mystery. We might just find a God who is in complete control.
A Prayer of Reflection:
The prayer of the contemplative Thomas Merton can be a guide:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think I’m following your will does not mean that I’m actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always. Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1958, pg. 79)