The reasons why
If you break a Grace United Methodist Church coffee mug, is it like 7 years of bad luck? Asking for a friend. I don’t know, is luck really a thing? Let’s see, step on a crack break your mother’s back – I remember that from elementary school, but ewwwww, who came up with that one? Never walk under a ladder – I’m guessing that’s more about the drops of paint or tools that might fall on your head. Never let a black cat cross your path, I think that’s only around Halloween, isn’t it?
I had a black cat when I was growing up. His name was Inky, o.k., o.k. not very creative, but better than the orange cat I named Orangey – not even kidding. Inky did get blamed for a lot of stuff – maybe even for breaking a vase of my mom’s which I tried to glue back together which she found which she then asked ME about, and not my sister, what’s the deal with that? And yes, unbeknownst to her til now, I was playing with my superball in the house, and it might have hit the glass vase and knocked it off and with the whole gravity thing, broke it. But I glued it back together perfectly, so when she asked about it my mind was so overwhelmed with ideas about how to make the world a better place for the suffering, I couldn’t remember exact details so might have told her Inky did it – he was a black cat after all. I’m not sure how he dealt with being grounded. I know I didn’t always have a pleasant attitude when it happened to me.
If you have Irish genes, have you experienced special luck? Do you find more 4-leaf clovers than those with other genetic origins? What about lucky numbers? Mine are 2, 28, and 32 – no, I have no reason why. And if hypothetically I’ve ever had any powerball tickets, those numbers if they are on the list, have never shown up in a way that helped me be greatly financially generous with so many places of need which I would absolutely do if that was ever even possible with a hypothetical ticket. Bottom line, I’m not much a believer in luck, good or bad.
How about coinkydinks? Otherwise known as coincidences. Are you big on those? I’m not so much. Although, the following quote questionably attributed to Albert Einstein (I’d like to believe it was him), “a coincidence is a small miracle when God chooses to remain anonymous,” makes complete sense to me. The actual dictionary definition is quite good as well, “a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.” The word “remarkable” used in this way speaks to me of God, although I’m sure the Webster people wouldn’t necessarily see it that way – I’m o.k. with that which probably comforts them. Are there negative coincidences? I suppose that’s the being in the wrong place at the wrong time as opposed to being in the right place at the right time. Is one coincidence and one not?
Luck, coinkydinks, being at the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time, being dealt a good hand – or not, mirror breaking for 7 yrs of bad luck, cute black kittens crossing our path being ominous, 4-leaf clovers promising good, or crack-stepping affecting back breaking . . . it all seems a little much for me. How are we supposed to keep track of it all?
The essential question speaks mostly to the human need for a sense of control, a sense that somehow there is a structure or reason for how or why things happen. I was recently asked by a young adult about God’s will – does God control everything? Well that’s just an easy question and answer that people have spent lifetimes thinking, writing, talking, researching, considering in concrete scenarios and hypothetical situations over and over and over again, and unless someone knows the complete mind of God, then we really don’t have a complete answer. Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Don’t you hate it when a pastor uses a lot of words to say they don’t know? That does not mean that we don’t have faith and that we don’t have ideas, some likely better than others.
I referred him to a little book written in the 1940’s by a British preacher seeking to both comfort and instruct his congregation during the devastation of WWII. His name is Leslie Weatherhead and the book is entitled simply, “The Will of God”. I yet today find it compelling, not exhaustive, but a faithful possibility and guide in the generationless pondering on the how’s and why’s of the happenings on our journeys of faith. It certainly offers more peace than broken mirrors and/or lucky or not so much numbers, at least to me.
There have been times as a pastor that I have ended up in the place I needed to be without truly knowing how I got there or the seeming undetectable and untraceable guidance that helped me arrive where I needed to be at just the right time. I attribute it to the hand of God, others have said it’s the power of good in the universe (is it really so much harder to say God?), still others tell me I see what I want to see because of my bias (I might say faith). Yet the fact remains that I arrived. And yes, there is the question of how many times I didn’t when it would have been helpful if I had, and I don’t know about those or how many there have been. Does that wake me up at night? Of course. Then how do I go back to sleep? I trust that in my weakness and lack of perfect sight, God provides in other ways for those in need. Am I at perfect peace with that? Absolutely not because I too, have some control issues. Grace people stop fake coughing and rolling your eyes into the back of your head like I didn’t know you already knew that. Smile. That balance of faith and doubt and planning and serendipity and structure and expectation and disappointment and blessing and anxiety and joy is the height and breadth and depth of being human . . . all of us . . . together.
My mom now knows I broke the vase and not my bad-luck black cat Inky about 48 or 49 years ago – I’m guessing she probably knew that and that I remember it way more than she does – the guilt of not telling the truth tends to stick. And don’t worry Mom, I’ve kinda been grounded off and on the past couple of years and my attitude has not always been pleasant, so you didn’t miss anything by not doing it yourself.
You all also now know my favorite numbers, not so much lucky, but still my favorites. And most of all I hope you know that in all the ups and downs of life, I trust God, even when and where I do not understand, more than anyone or anything, and believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that God wants good things for us, even when the icky things seem overwhelming. I’ll leave you with one of my lifetime friend’s favorite scriptural quotes that she often cited in her last year of life at 50 – I could never quite understand how she so authentically believed it during the final stages of her far-too-short-life, but I have no doubt she did. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” (Romans 2:38, NRSV). So may it be.