The Only Possible Life

The other day, my husband came home with a three-ring binder from a business coaching group to which he belongs. He plopped it down beside me on the couch: “Personal Life Planner” it said on the cover. It beckoned to me. It had a picture of a bald eagle soaring majestically, apparently above the heads of all the losers who hadn’t planned a darn thing.

“I got you one, too,” Gordon said. And sure enough, as if by sleight of hand, another life-plan binder materialized from behind his back.

God must think we’re the cutest things.

A few weeks prior to this, I just happened to be overlooking a vineyard, drinking a sauvignon blanc and having a conversation with a professor of philosophy. Because this never happens, I had to work this scene into this article somehow. Also, my nails were nice.

She was telling me about my impending mid-life crisis. Since I’m 35, I have the next ten years before the realization hits that I have wasted. Every. Last. Minute. Was I living true to my passions or would I look back with regret? She was really fun.

It turns out, this feeling of mid-life unease had already been churning inside me, having just been instructed by my doctor to have my first-ever mammogram the week prior. “Your body is about to start betraying you,” Dr. Deem might have said. “Now is the time for vigilance.”

“Your life is about to start betraying you,” my philosophy-prof friend might have said, as the breeze curled our hair around the wine glass stems. “Now is the time for vigilance.”

“Your PLANS, however, will NOT betray you!” my Life-Plan Binder was exclaiming, a bit hysterically. “Now is the time for vigilance!!!”

All this vigilance, all this self-protection and promotion. I feel so caught up in it. I just have this one precious life, this one precious body, this one shot. No wonder it’s tempting to believe in reincarnation; it’s too much pressure to live just once.

I looked to the Bible for examples of people who had to overcome this problem, but it seems like, to me, biblical people didn’t have the luxury of worrying about maximizing their potential. At least not in the way I feel it. Their gods took other forms and their Personal Life Plan binders were more of the horse-and-chariot, rich-meat-of-Babylon variety.

Perhaps the antithesis of this is John the Baptist, who lived oddly off the grid, oddly out of control.

I’m not sure, if left to his own devices, he would have put Poor, Locust-Eating Bachelor on his 5-year plan. But that’s just it; he was never left to his own devices, never left to live all for himself, all by himself. And neither are we.

Psalm 31 is balm to a soul like mine, which is eager for assurance in this season of life. The poet is bemoaning the vagaries of his misfortune, the oppression of his enemies, even the self-betrayal of his own sin — all things, I’m sure, he never imagined for his life in an earlier time. All things, I’m sure, which interfered with his idea of a well wrought, fully-realized existence. And then he speaks the most glorious word in Scripture: “But.”

“But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands…”
Psalm 31:14-15

John the Baptist did not seem to understand exactly what was happening with his life and ministry, especially towards the end of it (Matt. 11:2-4). An imprisonment and early beheading (as opposed to a timely beheading?) obviously threw him for a loop. Life probably looked nothing like he had imagined, but I think (I hope) he quoted the Psalmist to himself in the darkness, like a prayer, like a question —

“You are my God. I am not my god. My times are in your hands. They are not in mine.”

Perhaps I can pray this prayer, too. Perhaps vigilance is overrated, or only useful as it spurs us to pursue greater freedom and fellowship with God. Perhaps binders are only useful for Disney vacations. Perhaps right now, with him, is the only possible life.

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