A crisis has a way of bringing things into sharp focus, into fresh perspective. This has been a hard week for my family and me, especially for my Dad who had a stroke. He’s in hospital, struggling to recover speech and the use of his arm. It has been an emotionally disorientating experience. The shock, the concern, the moments of anguish mixed with glimpses of hope. It reminds me of an old Chinese Taoist story cited by Alison Hardingham in Psychology for Trainers.
The story describes a farmer in a poor country village. He was considered very well-to-do because he owned a horse that he used for ploughing, for riding around and for carrying things. One day, his horse ran away. All his neighbours exclaimed how terrible this was, but the farmer simply said, ‘maybe’. A few days later the horse returned and brought two wild horses with it. The neighbours all rejoiced at his good fortune but the farmer said, ‘maybe’.
The next day the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses. The horse threw him and broke the boy’s leg. The neighbours all offered their sympathy for this misfortune, but the farmer again said, ‘maybe’. The next week conscription officers came to the village to take young men for the army. They rejected the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. When the neighbours told him how lucky he was. The farmer simply replied,‘maybe’.
The book goes on to explain, using this story as an example of reframing. The meaning that any event has depends upon the frame in which we perceive it. When we change the frame, we change the meaning. Having two wild horses is a good thing until it is seen in the context of the son’s broken leg. The broken leg seems to be bad in the context of peaceful village life; but in the context of conscription and war it becomes good.
Changing the frame in which a person perceives events changes the meaning. When the meaning changes, the person’s responses and behaviours also change. The more reframing you can do, the more choices you have. So I don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s an uncertain time but I have seen glimpses of God’s frame. Dad’s courage and optimism in the midst of such a traumatic personal ordeal, Mum’s acting to get him to hospital so fast.
The ambulance crew that arrived so quickly, racing through traffic lights to the hospital team that was waiting. Professional staff with care, resources and expertise. A single room where Dad can relax and sleep. My whole family alongside Dad, supporting him and each other, even from a distance. My brother bringing Dad’s whole motorcycle club to the hospital, dressed in Santa costumes. The excited look on Dad’s face when they arrived!
The colleagues who released me to travel home early from work, the friends who looked after the girls while I was away, the clear roads all the way on route, the friend who offered me a bed for the night to break up the journey. The technology that allows us all to stay in touch. The kind people on every continent who offered to pray for Dad when they saw my post on Facebook. Is God doing things hidden yet amazing through all of this? ‘Maybe’.
It felt like magic. No matter where I turned, it would simply calculate a fresh route. I couldn’t get lost. Wow, this felt exciting and liberating, especially for someone like me who has an absolutely hopeless sense of direction. It was my first drive out with a satnav. I had heard of them but never seen one in action. Journeys would never be the same. I could relax more, play more, not worry so much about getting disorientated and ending up in the wrong place.
I loved it. I still love it now. It’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made. No more heated arguments in the car, ‘This way, turn off here, no I meant back there…didn’t you see the sign??!’ Those were not relaxing times. So, why thinking about the satnav, why now? Well, I’ve had some fascinating chats with people, provoked by my recent blog on discerning God’s will in our lives. How can we know if we are where God wants us to be? What if we make a mistake?
I get the impression from the Bible that God has an eternal plan in mind, an eternal destination if you like. Nothing we can do can undermine his ultimate plan. We can’t change it, prevent it or subvert it. It’s as if God has given us free will, choices about what route to take, but whatever we choose becomes part of his plan. He uses it, incorporates it, recalculates the route, so to speak, to reach that same ultimate destination. In theology, it’s called pre-destination.
It reminds me of student days in philosophy lectures. I couldn’t get my head around it. If God knows everything, knows what free choices I will make, and God cannot know something that isn’t true, how can I not do what feels like a free choice and, therefore, what does it mean to call it free? It was mindbending. It assumed, however, that God exists in linear time. If God exists outside of time, he knows what is at all times. He knows it because we choose it.
It was hard to get my thinking straight around this notion of ‘outside of time’ because I couldn’t easily relate to it in my own experience. I can only experience life in-time, in linear sequence. Yesterday…today…tomorrow. The clock ticks, one second follows another. However, I can grasp the notion that I actually live in one moment at a time. I live in the now, not the what-was past or the what-will-be future. The Bible describes God as encountering us in the now.
The now is where I am as a result of my particular life circumstances, decisions I have taken and of God leading me. God is calling me to be and become as fully as I can be in the now moment: all he has created me to be, enables me to be, empowers me to do. He guides me mysteriously by his Spirit, by the Bible, through experience and through others towards his final destination. God is our ultimate 'satnav' guide. If I choose to listen, I may get there quicker.
Nick is a coach, trainer and OD consultant.