Monday, February 4, 2013

Uncertain Living

When I was twelve, I was fascinated by gypsies. I didn't really know much about them, especially not about real Romanian gypsies, since my knowledge derived mostly from a few fantasy novels featuring gypsies and was supplemented by my own imagination. I was intrigued by the picture of a wandering people, roaming a country in wagons that were their homes, having "no fixed abode" and the ability to pack up and move on whenever the notion suited them. However inaccurate this portrait may be, it was highly romantic to my twelve-year-old self, so much so that I made the hero of the novel I was writing into a gypsy boy, complete with long black hair, a flashing white smile, and a gold earring.

Sometimes I have wondered if my interest in the nomadic lifestyle was prophetic of my future as an Air Force wife. Fast forward six or seven years from my twelve-year old self and I would have denied this adamantly (and did on multiple occasions to multiple people. Just ask my Colorado friends.) In fact I swore that I would never marry into the military. The lack of control in a military lifestyle was not appealing to me–a life of continual uprooting, of never knowing where the next assignment would be, of never knowing what my husband would be asked to do next, of enduring long periods apart from him, anxious for his safety– I wanted none of it. Good thing my twelve-year-old self's romanticism resurfaced when I met the Pilot. It was easy, during the first exhilarating rush of love, to decide that perhaps the Air Force lifestyle was not, after all, an insuperable obstacle to happiness. It was easy to mentally cast myself in the role of the heroine, who would give up control and security and certainty to be with her beloved gypsy, or in this case, Air Force pilot-in-training. 

Now I have been married a little over a year, and this week the uncertainty of military life is more on my mind because at the end of the week the Pilot and I will know where we're going next, once Phoenix training is finished and it's time to move to our first operational assignment. The list of available assignments was handed off to the Pilot's class a few days ago, and somehow, by the end of the week, they will have decided on the most fair way to distribute out the slots. Everyone, of course, has preferences, and in a class of fourteen active-duty pilots, it is impossible that everyone will get to go exactly where they want. In fact, it is more than likely that some will have to go where they very much do not want to go. It is the reality of the Air Force.

Or is it just the Air Force? Perhaps it is the reality of all of life, and the Air Force lifestyle simply makes it more apparent? 

I think a lot of American society– particularly the middle class and upwards– lives in a constant illusion of certainty. After all, we believe that if we are willing to work hard that we can do just about anything, be whomever we choose to be, and live in whatever way seems best to us. We crave the security of certainty. With enough money, or enough determination, or enough work, or enough health, or enough fame (the list goes on indefinitely), we are convinced that we will control our lives, obtain certainty of our futures– command our destiny. 

Isn't that one of the reasons Americans tend to avoid pain at all costs? Obviously pain is painful, which is one reason to avoid it. But for Americans, living in our mirage of certainty and control, pain reminds us that the walls which we have carefully constructed about our lives to protect our own well-being are like ice– they may look impenetrable, but they will melt away the minute the heat is turned up. The walls may be built of many things– money, or a good reputation, or a healthy lifestyle, or the very popular belief in a kind of karma that says if you live a good life and "do the right thing" then God or the Universe or whatever Force is out there owes you a good life. Yet all it takes is something tragic– a death, a disease, a relationship destroyed– or perhaps something less serious yet still painful, like a job loss, or a military assignment that you didn't want– to melt away our illusions of certainty.

But is it possible that this disillusionment may actually be a good thing?

Disillusionment tends to breed either despair or cynicism, but is it possible there might be a third option that leads neither to depression nor bitterness?

Of course, I believe there is. Every time our self-protective walls melt away, every time hardship shatters our defenses, every time we are faced with the stark reality of our own inability to control anything, there is an invitation extended from the Someone who is in control. Someone who is telling the story. Someone who brings good out of bad, right out of wrong, peace out of chaos.

We can choose to ignore this invitation, if we like. He won't force our trust.

But He longs for our trust, because He knows that as long as we strive and stretch and grasp at the illusion of control, we are like people dying of thirst in a desert, going our own way, clutching towards a mirage, when He wants only for us to turn and see that He offers us a real oasis. 

The pattern of military life is serving to drive home this reality to me, and it is not an easy thing to learn. I have been addicted to control. Perhaps that is one of the reasons God planned for me to fall in love with the Pilot– because only until I was faced with my own inability to control anything, through loving a man with a dangerous job, an uncertain future, and very little knowledge of what the next twenty years would look like– could I begin to learn that trusting God instead of myself with the uncertainty of the days is exchanging blindness for sight. People speak of blind faith, but where is the blindness in determining to trust the only Person who can see with perfect and infinite clarity what is happening?

So I'm learning to live in the midst of uncertainty and not be paralyzed by it, or fearful of it, or angry at it. Which is not to say that I never feel frozen, or afraid, or angry– plenty of times I'm all three simultaneously. Yet the anger, the fear, is the natural result of refusing God's invitation to trust Him, because if I refuse it then I have only myself to fall back on, my own weakness, my own incapacity to control anything. The key to trusting is to remember who I am– for as Paul Tripp puts it, "If you are God's child, you are the object of love of the Person who rules everything that there is to rule... You are secure for one reason and one reason alone: God exists and he is your Father."

It is no impersonal force, no cosmic karma, no distant deity who directs the universe– and none of those things would be worthy of trust. Only love can birth trust. Only a God who loves me so much, so intensely, so personally, as to sacrifice everything, even His life, to make me His daughter, can truly be worthy of all trust. Only that kind of love can bring real, lasting peace in the midst of an uncertain life. 

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