This past Saturday afternoon, I sat with my wife, watching our three children run around a playground. We took a trip to celebrate ten years of marriage and we had spent much of our quiet time reflecting on how far we had come, what we had gone through together, and what we had accomplished. In many ways, we were watching our three greatest accomplishments (our children) and reflecting on another (our ten years of marriage).
And, it had been a great trip, experiencing the beauty of God’s creation by hiking up to breathtaking scenic lookout points and places of absolute serenity. Our kids hiked more than 7km over two days with almost no complaining. They approached each new park, hotel room and restaurant with excitement. My wife and I had nothing but happy memories to reflect on from our marriage. It was just a happy, happy time.
As I sat there reflecting, I said to my wife, “I hope we’re not just really lucky!”
This would have been the perfect time for her to say that no other man could possibly make her this happy. She could have listed off all of the conscious decisions and sacrifices we had made that had brought us to our present almost utopian reality. She could have pointed to any combination of our intelligence, faithfulness, and mostly humility as the cause of our current stability, but she didn’t. She just smiled and said, “Yeah, I don’t know. “
It would be great to be able to control our own narrative like that. It would be great to be able to say that each of us, sought out to find a companion, and because of some mixture of determination, divine providence and the proper criteria, we found what we were and should have been looking for.
Of course it is possible to tell another story; that we got lucky. Lots of people never find their soul mate, but somehow we succeeded. Lots of couples try and fail to conceive, but for us it worked right away. Then, of those couples who manage to get married, many don’t last for ten years, but we did. And we can’t say that we are somehow better and more deserving than these other people, because we know them. We know that they are as much or more intelligent, attractive, gracious, loving, faithful, and marriable than we are. So the question is obvious, why us and not them?
There are perils to embracing either story wholeheartedly. If I believe that my good fortune resulted only and completely from my work and actions, then the logical conclusion of that is that the pain and difficulties my friends experience is the direct result of their failures. So if someone were to complain to me about their plight, what could I possibly do but diagnose their failure and prescribe some kind of remedy. If I believe that I have earned nothing, then it would be best not to hold too tightly to my family because that which has come randomly will leave randomly. If someone asks for my advice, I dare not give any, because I wouldn’t have earned the right to comment on any situation, no matter how similar to mine.
There are benefits though too, and, as usual, it’s best to dwell on those. If I believe that I have done good things to earn my good situation, then I need to keep doing those things, or else I will deserve to lose those good things. In this world view, if my wife loves me, it must be because I have done something right, so I need to keep doing right by her. If my kids are happy, it must be because I have either given them a happy world, or because I have given them the tools to be happy in an unhappy world. Why would that change now? Keeping them happy and joyful will require more work. If I see my blessings as easy come easy go, then maybe I should hold them even tighter. From time to time random evil does happen; a child is kidnapped, a plane crashes, and vehicles accidentally collide. In those times all we can do is draw our loved ones closer and tell them, just in case it’s the last time that they hear it, that they are loved and valued and cared for. Shouldn’t I do the same thing all the time if my day-to-day fortunes are just as random?
You may have learned to be leary of any time a pastor presents opposing and flawed positions, but I don’t have a clever third option. I don’t even know where on the spectrum of in between options I would place myself. But I am truly happy to be where I am, and so I am committed to do whatever it takes to stay and I want to do whatever I can to demonstrate appropriate gratitude. Whatever the truth is, I want my response to be appropriate.