Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Hope is not a plan" :: Advent, Week One

At church on Sunday, my pastor gave an excellent sermon on hope. She confessed her interest in crime TV shows (holla!), and gave an excellent quote from one of these shows, in which Hetty Lang of NCIS Los Angeles tells one of her subordinates, "Hope is not a plan, Mr. Callan."

I started getting worried at this point in the sermon. I thought, Oh no, she's going to start talking about how we need to plan to work harder at life / spirituality / relationships. I don't think I can take one more person telling me that my life isn't working because I'm not doing enough.

But. I should not have doubted her so.

She went the total opposite direction. She admitted that, yes, hope is not a plan. But she also stated the obvious truth that any person who has spent any time on the planet knows - which is, that even the best-laid plans often fail. The Scriptures are clear about this (Matt. 5:45, Job 2:10, and the entire book of Ecclesiastes), which is part of why I am so baffled by believers who present their sermons and their lives to us as a sort of how-to-live-and-be-awesome guidebook.

Larry Crabb says it so well in his book Soul Talk, when he says that many people have unwittingly adopted a formulaic view of their spirituality. The formula is basically:

I live a good life + God honors my actions = My life goes reasonably well

How many sermons have I heard that advocate this formula? How many have you heard? I've heard approximately one shitload. And I was nineteen years old (actually, six years old...but my powers of denial are pretty formidable) the first time I doubted this formula. Because you know what happened? The unexpected. The unexpected happened, and it knocked the air right out of me, and my prayers during this time were mostly along the lines of, "Ooouuuuccchhh...." Then again in my mid-20s, and again a couple years ago.

But I gotta tell you, I am getting better at something. I'm getting better at opening my hands - or at least, if I can't do that, of loosening my grip. (Notice I did not say that I'm getting better at expecting the unexpected. This is another mutant form of planning that invokes anxiety, i.e. fear, and I don't want any part of it.) And what helps me let go, even if it's just an itty bitty bit? It's knowing who's got my back, and knowing that he is GOOD.

Because when the proverbial shit hits the metaphorical fan of life, what is there to do? You roll with the punches. Well, first off, you duck. Because, ew. And then you roll with the punches. You find moments of stillness, and pockets of joy, and you pray one of the three essential prayers, "Help."

And you know that it's not over. Things are still happening, and there is still breath in your lungs, and you are going to be okay.

Yes, hope is not a plan. Thank goodness.

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