Rising Leader Series: Week 40 - Chance
Updated: Feb 25
THIS TOO IS JOY
Best we not seek a predictable day,
for life’s meaning is found in the detours
Every twist bequeaths its fruit, come what may
In the end, no matter what, joy endures
Even then. When huge clouds darken the sky
When you fight and bargain and scream out your “why”
‘til at last you succumb with surrendered reply
as your dreams fly away in one long goodbye
This too is joy. Though wounded, joy persists
as God teaches lessons in each turn of fate
Keep hands ever open for fortune’s wrapped gifts
Once received, hand them on to those who await
How responds joy to the rolled dice of chance?
Joy trusts: to grow, to love, to give, to dance
When I was 9 years old, Mark, Paul and I went on a bike ride. My bike happened to have a flawed braking system: when I back pedaled, I could slow the bike down, but the action didn’t lock the brake. It just created friction, slowing the bike. So if I was going too fast it took a long time to stop. Silly me– despite this flaw, I still thought a long bike ride with friends would be a great idea.
We came to the precipice of a big hill. The dirt path down curved into the woods; you couldn’t see where it went. My friends talked me into going first. As my bike picked up speed, I quickly realized I was in trouble. I couldn’t slow the bike. Two or three close calls with trees later, I broke into a clearing. There before me was a bridge, stretching over a creek. Well that’s not quite accurate. The brick walls lining both sides of the creek were there (the ones built to hold a bridge). The bridge itself was not there. It was out.
And there was no way to stop. So my bike and I shot over the near side, flying into thin air above the creek. The brick wall on the far side caught my front wheel, pancaking it. I went careening over the handlebars. I must have been going fast, because my airborne body made it across and cleared the top of the brick wall on the far side. I remember seeing dirt, then sky, then dirt and sky again before I landed and tumbled to a stop, cut and bruised but not broken. It was a miracle I was alive.
Years later, in my junior year of high school, I joined friends at a big party at a classmate’s parent-free home. The music was loud; the underage drinking was out of control. Somewhere deep into the night I heard some shouting. People began running towards the road in front of the house, and I followed. A body lay on the ground. As I stood there, an ambulance arrived. His name was whispered. It was a classmate of mine, lying motionless, covered in blood. I knew him well: someone not yet a close friend, but friendly to me. He had wandered too close to the road. A truck’s rear-view mirror had hit him in the head and killed him. It was a horrific tragedy.
Chance. It marks the mundane and thunderbolt moments of our lives. Miracles. Tragedies. Unexpected encounters. Windfalls, shortfalls, pratfalls, pitfalls and downfalls. Where is God in it all? Why did He hand this one a winning lottery ticket? Why did He allow that one to suffer so?
God is omnipotent. But perhaps that just means He’s poised for every possibility. Perhaps it doesn’t mean God knows how everything will turn out, or that He predestined it. Because the whole idea of divine soothsaying and predestination gets in the way of free will, His great gift to His children.
Of course there are natural consequences— inexorable trends, predictable waves of change precipitated by behaviors and events. But God gives us freedom to choose our life path– all 7.7 billion of us. He doesn’t master us as puppets; he waits and prays we will choose well. And since everyone and everything is interconnected, humanity’s continuous and simultaneous free will choices interact with each other across time (in a stimulus / response way). As they do, they create a very large number of possible futures. Throw in the laws of nature (which explain the exact moment a rock dislodges from a hill and caroms down onto a bridge, or how certain cellular mutations create cancer in some people– that sort of thing) and the future’s possibilities approach infinite.
All too often, as chance unfolds, we expect God to come to the rescue in the physical sense– to pull us right out of our calamities and crises and risky situations. When he doesn’t, we lose faith. Maybe it’s more helpful to see God as our ever-present soul-help in times of trouble. He is the One who loves us no matter what serendipities and tragedies rock and shock our lives. He is the Great I AM, always and intimately there: for us, with us, and in us. From life to death to life, forever and ever, Amen.
And if this is true, then it means our lives are not defined so much by the chance events we encounter, nor how God responds– but rather by how we respond. Do we turn to God? Do we share our sufferings and joys with Him? Do we trust His unfolding will? Do we seek out meaning, to discover any fruits the events of our lives might someday yield?
In our chance experiences, seeds of God’s call are planted. A chance encounter with a homeless person might prompt an offer to buy a meal at McDonald’s-- or strengthen our callous indifference. The loss of a child to random gun violence might prompt a parent to someday become an advocate for gun law reform-- or to die having never shaken paralytic despair. Winning the lottery might fund the building of a new community center-- or a life of gluttony. Every chance event in our lives offers us an opportunity to choose: will our hearts become smaller or bigger? Better or bitter?
Good leader, you are called to live a soulful life. To feel connected existence deeply, in all its joy and mystery. To trust God in every chance circumstance, knowing that peace and meaning will in time be found. God does not call us to be successful: He calls us to be faithful. We respond with all the love we can muster. Because in the end, love wins.
Next week, let's explore our consciences.
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."-- John 16:33
Here’s to the God of Second Chances!
(For past letters and songs go to: TomMohr.com. To add people to the mailing list, click here.)Tom
Previous Weeks' Letters:
Week 6: Leadership and the Holy Spirit Week 7: Holy Winds Week 8: Healing Waters
Week 28: Democracy: Individual Liberty; Equal Vote
Week 29: Democracy: Equal Justice
Week 30: Democracy: Equal Opportunity
Week 33: Environmental Sustainability
Week 34: Economic Sustainability
Week 35: Social Sustainability
Week 37: Church Discipleship Week 38: Community: Race Week 39: Community: Charity