I had an epiphany recently.
When things don’t go the way we wanted, the way we planned, we feel out of control. We hate it. It leaves us in a bad mood, asking “Why me?” or “Why would God let this happen?”
When things do go the way we planned, we feel in control. Happy. Peaceful. On top of things. We know what to expect: our desires becoming a reality.
Here’s the epiphany part: We were never in control to begin with! It’s kind of like that scene in The Land Before Time (my daughter is super into dinosaurs, so I get to relive the scariest movie of my childhood – yay!) where Cera is hungry but proudly wants to get the leaves down by herself. She runs into the tree, headbutting it again and again, until Little Foot mercifully and inconspicuously tosses a bunch down, timed with one of her attempts. She munches self-contentedly one her chlorophyll-filled meal, not realizing the goodness of her friend she so often snubs.
Sometimes things happen according to my plan, but I wonder how often it’s actually because I made them happen, and how often God just has pity on me and throws down some leaves while I walk away feeling so good about myself.
It’s not that we don’t need to try to do anything because our lives are predestined in a way that negates our free will. God gives us human means. We have intelligence and time, money and influence, knowledge of female reproductive systems, textbooks we can study, and rowboats we can float away in. But, for those of us who tend to want to control our surroundings, it’s good to remember that God gave us even those means. All that takes place in our lives does so under the loving eye of Our Heavenly Father, the Giver of good gifts. So when we pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on us, we can feel free, and tell God with Pope Saint John XXIII, “It’s your church, Lord. I’m going to bed.” It’s in his hands; we do our best and leave to God the rest.
Things not turning out as we had hoped is a reminder from Our Lord that we are not in charge and that we need him. Being a parent has taught me more about how God sees us than my theology degree ever did. How badly do my children need me! How badly must I need him? My newborn could literally not leave the room if I just left him there. And my two year old – well, we’ve all heard enough stories about two year olds to know that things don’t end well when you take your eyes off them for more than 30 seconds (check out the literal writing on all of our walls if you want evidence of that). I think I am so capable when I check things off my to do list, when a recipe turns out well, when have a pleasant day with no tantrums or tardiness. In reality, I need the days where I hide in the bathroom or turn the music to maximum volume in the car to drown out the whining to wake me up to my dependence on Our Lord. He often throws me the leaves, but sometimes, I need him not to, so I realize that all this good in my life? It’s not my doing. I’m not in control. And that is a damn good thing.