What To Do When Life is Out of Our Control
November 4, 2012
On Wednesday, people all over our country are going to wake up to begin their day with a wide variety of emotions. Some are going to be very happy. Their candidate will have been elected as president the night before and they will be very hopeful and optimistic about the months and years ahead.
Others will wake up and they will be very concerned. Their candidate will have lost the presidential election the night before and their disappointment will likely be associated with concern and with a sense of pessimism about the future. Having voted and exercised their right, they will feel as though much that is going to happen in the life of our country over the weeks, months and years ahead is now largely out of their control.
This mixture of emotions associated with this week’s presidential election is not isolated from the rest of our lives. Rather, these emotions are merely reflective of how other life situations also affect us. At times, life is good and things are going well. As a result, our outlook is often positive, hopeful and optimistic. At other times, things are not going well. Life has unfolded in a way that is far different than what we had anticipated or expected.
What is even worse is that often times these moments feel as though they are largely out of our control. Whether it is an illness, extended family problems, the struggle to find work, the feeling of isolation or aloneness or a variety of other issues, part of our sadness during any period of difficulty is always a result of the realization that much of what confronts us is beyond our ability to control or fix. In those moments, when our sense of hopelessness is combined with our feeling that life has moved beyond our ability to control, manipulate or fix, what are we to do, how should we act and what is the Christian response?
The temptation for all of us is to sit down and to give up. Indeed, the real tendency is to throw up our hands and to say there simply is nothing that we can do. But, is this really the response that God wants us to have? How do we live productively through such times?
When I think about this, I am reminded of stories about a distant relative that quite frankly I don’t recall ever meeting. But, I have heard my dad talk about him on a number of occasions. This relative’s job required a lot of waiting. He drove a truck and his day’s schedule often depended on others. He regularly sat and waited for the truck to be loaded or unloaded in between shuttling the materials his was carrying from one destination to the next. While he waited, he could have simply caught a quick nap and let the day simply pass by while doing nothing. But, he refused that approach to his idle time. Instead, according to my dad, he always carried a paperback of some type of book with him in either the bib of his overalls or in his back pocket. In his idle moments, he would pull out his book and read. Though he had little formal education, he read thousands and thousands of books over the course of his adult life simply while he sat and waited through those moments in his daily life while he waited on someone else.
Daniel had a similar resolve. Along with his fellow Israelites from Judah, Daniel found himself as one of the early captives in Babylon during the years of the Jewish exile there. Though a young man when he went to Babylon, Daniel lived a significant majority of his life there with little expectation that their period of captivity would end quickly or that he would go home in the near future. It really could have been a hopeless and grim period in Daniel’s life. As a young man, what could he really do? How was he to function when facing such an uncertain future and while living through a period of time that so depended on someone else?
In short, what we find in the book that bears his name is that Daniel refused to give up. Rather, he made the most of a bad situation and an unknown future. Remarkably and in large part due to his attitude and sterling character even in the worst of times, Daniel, as well as several of his friends, actually became a rather prominent figure within the Babylonian government even as one of their captives. Along the way, his story gives us insights into several key ingredients that were a part of Daniel’s approach to life during his uncertain days. In turn, I would argue that these same ingredients can be invaluable to us in the midst of our own similar experiences as we face our times of an uncertain future and as we too live through life circumstances that are often largely out of our control.
First, God shaped how Daniel felt about his situation rather than the current situation shaping how Daniel felt about God. What I am saying here is that if you look at all of the scenes related to Daniel, from our story today concerning Daniel’s diet to the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, in each situation, Daniel began with a strong belief in the goodness and faithfulness of God. He thus attacked each situation from that perspective instead of allowing what was happening in the moment to call him to question over and over again whether God was still faithful or good.
We often operate from exactly the opposite perspective. Rather than God defining how we feel about our current situation, our current situation defines how we will feel about God. If things are going well then we feel good about God. But, if life is falling apart, we quickly project that feeling onto God.
I once knew a man who had almost every dollar he had to his name in the stock market. He spent a significant part of almost every day watching the stock market report of television. All you had to do was check the Dow report before you called Bill and you would know his mood. If the market was up, Bill was always happy. If the market was down, Bill was always on edge, depressed or upset. The market always dictated Bill’s outlook on life.
Again, we often live this way in our relationship with God but not Daniel. Even in a world out of his control and full of uncertainty, Daniel saw God as full of goodness and faithfulness. This outlook never changed and it was always the lens with which he viewed the changing landscape of his days.
Second, Daniel remained committed to the disciplines of his faith throughout his uncertain time of captivity in Babylon. Indeed, you cannot read the book of Daniel without seeing just how committed Daniel was to obeying God’s commands and to a life of prayer. In fact, almost every crisis that we see in this book relates to a temptation that Daniel and his friends faced to set aside the disciplines of their faith in order to placate their Babylonian rulers. Whether it related to their dietary laws, the command to worship no other God or the call to be people of prayer, a commitment to the disciplines of their faith is at the heart of Daniel’s story.
This is such a good reminder because the human temptation and tendency is to allow our feelings about the future to also dictate our commitment to the disciplines of our faith in the present. Again, because our feelings about God are often tied to our feelings about the world, when life seems to be moving in a direction that is different from the way that we would like for it to go, it is incredibly easy to convince ourselves that remaining true to the tenants of our faith just doesn’t make any difference, so why bother? Why pray if God doesn’t seem to hear us? Why read the scripture if it doesn’t seem to change our world, why remain faithful if it doesn’t seem to matter?
But Daniel challenges these feelings that we all have. Daniel reminds us that the difficult times are actually the most critical times in our lives for faithfulness and for prayer. Daniel also helps us to recognize that these disciplines are just as much about shaping us as they are about shaping the world. And, through our being shaped, we are prepared to also shape others in the midst of difficulty. As a result, we often make the most profound difference in our dark days rather than in the best of days.
Ultimately, you can wrap up Daniel’s overarching perspective into the reality that through it all, Daniel remained a person of hope. Even in a world full of uncertainty and even though Daniel had no guarantee that he would ever return to his homeland, because of his faith, he found a way to be a person of hope. This is our calling. Rather than being swayed by ever wind that blows or every temporal life situation, we are to always proclaim that no matter what happens, God is still in control and there always remains a reason to be hopeful.
Think about it this way. Think of our lives as if they are a candle and our primary job during the storms of life as being about keeping our candle lit and burning. In a sense, being committed to the disciplines of faith is the way that we continue to feed the flame and keep the candle alive. Now, think about the difference that this light makes. When does such a candle make a more profound difference? When the world around it is full of darkness or when the world is full of light? Obviously, our light is most valuable when all that is around us is darkness.
Have you noticed that on Sundays we have started burning two candles each week on the alter? These candles represent God’s presence with us and our call to be the light of the world. Let me remind us of something. No matter what is happening out there – these candles are going to continue to burn. They are going to continue to provide light. They are going to continue to remind us of God’s love – no matter what. This is how God invites us to live when life is out of our control. The light….the light shines in the darkness…and the darkness did not and cannot overcome it! Amen.