I’m someone who likes to be organised, to plan well in advance, and make allowances for all possible things that can go wrong. This means shopping lists, to do lists, packing lists, prayer lists, and post-its. I love everything about Microsoft Excel, and the lovely apps with notes and lists. For the more important events, my lists grow even longer with multi-coloured, complicated excel sheets.
I even try to plan around all the probabilities and combinations of other people not doing their part, and think of backup options. I would prefer to be called “organised” but I know the word “control freak” describes me better sometimes!
But I also live in Delhi, which, like everywhere else in India, is unpredictable and full of interruptions. I can plan my day to the hilt but I come face to face with traffic jams, VIP movements, unannounced holidays, rallies, cancelled programmes, not to mention people just not turning up at the government offices. The last month has included waiting for a bank account to open, which should have taken one week but took one month. Another legal requirement is pending, because of a myriad of reasons (not to mention the hint of a bribe to push the papers forward).
Apart from where I live, most of life is made up of interactions with people who are just as unpredictable. Unlike a lab experiment where a set environment produces the same results, the same environment produces different responses from different people, and the even the same person may respond differently to the same situation. Even the best intentions can lead to misunderstandings and breakdowns in relationships.
In the midst of all this my frustration grows and I tend to respond with irritation to both circumstances and people. My situations can loom large and crowd the spiritual realities I need to remember and operate out of. So as I write these down, I know that these are reminders I should be living out of, and bring into the situations I face so frequently.
Rely on God who is in control
"The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters" (Psalm 24:1-2).
The sobering and humbling reality is that I am not in control. In coming face-to-face with situations and people I can’t control, I need to come face-to-face with the God who created the universe and who is in control. It is both humbling and freeing because I do not need to carry the weight of the uncertainty but rather submit to God who is able to both carry the weight and who can be trusted with the outcome. This should bring me to my knees in prayer, relying on God and submitting to His will in prayer.
“If we can’t say 'thy will be done' from the bottom of our hearts, we will never know any peace. We will feel compelled to try to control people and control our environment and make things the way we believe they ought to be. Yet to control life like this is beyond our abilities, and we will just dash ourselves upon the rock . . . to pray 'thy will be done' is to submit not only our wills to God but even our feelings, so that we do not become despondent, bitter, and hardened by the things that befall us” (Tim Keller).
Remember that the world is broken
Another reality I need to remember is that things are not the way they were meant to be. We live in a broken world with broken systems and broken people. I expect the frustration and groaning to be rare and life going smoothly to be usual. But the reality is that the frustration is the constant thing rather than the rare thing. While I grumble about the brokenness I see around me, I cannot ignore the brokenness of my own heart.
But because of the incarnation, which comes to the forefront this month, and what Christ has accomplished on the cross, we live with the hope that one day we and the world will once again wholly reflect the creator's character and purpose and that everything sad will really come untrue. It is also an ever present reality as we catch glimpses of it in the the here and now. which also fills me with hope. I love how C. S. Lewis puts it,
“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
Reflect God’s Character
My knee-jerk response to situations outside my control is frustration and irritation, usually aimed at people like the auto-driver, the customer service provider on the telephone and, ever so often, my family.
One of the most practical, and yet hardest things to do, is to replace irritation with kindness and frustration with humility. I know the difference it makes in a situation when my tone is gentle and kind and when I admit that I am not in control. But in the moment, it feels weak to be kind and that only if I make a scene can things go the way I want them to go.
But when I look at Christ, I see someone who willingly chose to be humble and weak, who entered this broken world with all its frustration and chaos and gave Himself up to be broken for us.
Dorothy Sayers writes, "For whatever reason, God chose to make man as he is – limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death – He [God] has the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with this creation, He has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace, and thought it was worthwhile."
I realise that I need to rely on God to give me the strength to respond to situations in a way that reflects His character, knowing that He understands my frailty and humanity. He daily bears my burdens, showers me with new mercies every morning and gives me the ability to live each day with the myriad instances of the brokenness and beauty of this world, under His sovereign control.