Kate, circa 1986:
Magic 8 Ball, will I ever have a house with secret tunnels and an elevator? Don’t count on it.
Will I live among gypsies in Spain? My sources say no.
Be a teacher? You may rely on it.
Marry the red-headed boy? Outlook not so good.
Write a best-seller? (Magic 8 Ball laughs hysterically.)
Me: Is this thing broken?
When you think about it, all of the deep questions we have about the future boil down to yes or no. The combinations may be endlessly complicated (will my house in Spain among the gypsies have secret tunnels and will I be a novelist with red-headed children or a spinster teacher with 22 dogs) but bit by bit, they are all yes or no questions. Well, duh! But this is an important point.
That thing you want settled most right this minute is a binary proposition. God, will I have children? May I move to the mountains? Should I go for a Ph.D? Should I send my kids to boarding school in a far-away country? For prayers big and small, we are waiting on a yes or a no. (I’ve often heard that the third option is “wait,” but really that’s just a slow yes, so we’re back to the first two.) Two choices? Gosh, that simplifies things.
Let’s take an easy example. Take the boarding school question. Let’s say your kids are driving you batty and you are really hoping for a yes. You give the Magic 8 Ball a vigorous shake and it comes up “very doubtful.” Well, bummer. But you still have two options.
Option one: misery. You look down the long years until they head off to college and realize that, nope, it’s not likely they are going to graduate early. Nary a prodigy in the bunch. You have another dozen years to go, and you are going to wake up every single day with a scowl, refine your yelling abilities, pout, and complain to anyone standing nearby.
Option two: contentment. The prospect of a dozen years of misery sounds kind of, shall we say, miserable, so you decide to breathe deep and be grateful. You hang up some cat posters about silver linings and cups half full and buck up.
But what if the Magic 8 Ball magically offers you positive words? “It is decidedly so. Without a doubt. As I see it, yes.” Now what? You still have two options.
What will you choose in the waiting? Misery, or hope?
Think about the big prayer of your heart ten years ago, twenty. What was the answer? What did you do with it?
Did misery ever add a day to your life, worry a happy hour to your day? Was joy less joyful when you chose to be present in a good moment instead of bracing for a bad? How many times do we wish for a time machine while we wait? But even if you could see the future, you’re still looking at a pair of simple options. It’s either going to be a yes, or it’s going to be a no. And either way, you’ll have a choice.
I’m starting on a read-the-Bible in a year plan (check it out here — this is a great little app) and for a few days have been following Abraham’s story. Now here was a guy facing a sloooow yes.
Abraham: God, will I have children?
Abraham: I’m like, old.
God: Definitely not getting any younger.
Sarah: I’ve got an idea. There’s this maid…
Abraham: That’s genius!
Abraham (like me) has trouble waiting joyfully. I mean, he does wait. Just not very placidly. Maybe he paces a little, kicks things. He and Sarah brainstorm a great way to give God a hand that involves sleeping with the help and goes, as expected, badly. What if he’d just… waited?
What if I trusted, hoped, but didn’t spend all my time looking ahead? What if I looked around instead, noticed the small gifts, embraced the season? What if I chose life?
Abraham and Sarah’s ache was deep, as all the childless know. There is a waiting — for healing, for reconciliation, for validation, even for death — that is painful. No cat poster can fix what’s happening behind half the doors on your street. And yet, no one can take away the choice we all have, every day. Deuteronomy 30:19-20 lays it out. “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days…”
So what’s the big question bugging you today? Maybe it’s yes, maybe it’s no.
What will you do with it?