Pastor’s Perspective – December 2020
I live in the future.
Before you question my sanity or call the authorities, please allow me to explain.
My work in Pastoral ministry has me consistently considering events and activities that are weeks if not months from fruition. Every Monday morning, I do my best to wipe away the remnants of Sunday’s worship and work and begin once again to prepare for the next Sunday. Along the way I do long term planning, looking at letterhead for Lent while still in the early days of Advent. Preparing sermon series for February while completing sermons for December.
Many people consider this visionary thinking. We tend to lionize men and women who can prepare themselves and others for a long-term plan. Business rewards those who can think in terms of a three-point plan that includes creation, promotion and delivery. Whatever it is that you might produce, you are likely to work in one of these areas. If you are a manager you likely have to juggle all of them at the same time, but the longer it takes from planning to production, the more you will find yourself “living in the future.”
I first discovered this three-prong plan when I was a young man working for the Fisher-Price company in Medina, New York. I was a college student working a summer job on the assembly line. I quickly found my comfort zone and was promoted to the A-line. I was the only college student that was able to keep up with the veterans (mostly middle-aged women). I kept my head down, my eyes forward, and my mind on the task. In assembly line work you are given a responsibility and expected to fulfill it… quickly.
For three months I was one of Santa’s elves (at least that is what I told my family and friends) assembling the Fisher-Price Main Street set for the children of the world. My days began at 7:00 and ended at 3:00; unless we ran out of plastic molding pellets, or cardboard shipping boxes, or any of the numerous things that went into the production of the toys that we assembled. With assembly line work, my work was contingent on the work of other crews in different parts of the factory, and often in different parts of the country.
While I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the executives at Fisher-Price saw some potential in my work ethic. They approached my father and asked if I was interested in a management job after I graduated from College. My father never told me about the offer. When he did share it with me I had already moved to the State of Ohio for my Seminary training. He didn’t want me to miss my calling and take the easy, low-hanging fruit.
I often wonder how my life would have differed had I heard the offer. Would I have stayed in New York? Would I have moved with the factory when it pulled out of Western New York? Would I have entered ministry at a later date, or at all? Whose plan was the right one; Fisher-Price had a plan, my father had a plan, I had a plan. Have I followed God’s plan?
There are certain things that no one can forecast. Even with perfect 20/20 hindsight one is hard pressed to know how one’s life would work out if we had the ability to change this decision or that one. If looking backward is so very difficult, then why do we imagine that our planning and preparation is so essential in our lives and our work? Why do we labor so hard in order to secure our future?
The truth is that no one can predict the future. So even when we spend our lives working and worrying about a future plan or goal, we must learn to hold loosely to our expectations and plans. Each of us must be ready for the adjustments, twists and turns that are sure to redirect our lives. Our futures are often written by the actions of our past, but more often than not our futures are directed by actions and occurrences that are completely and totally out of our control.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that even the most prepared person can run into something that no one could have predicted. If the pandemic didn’t throw a monkey wrench into your year, then the response of the government, and the shift in consumer activity probably did. What was essential a year ago, quickly became meaningless. And what was considered non-essential in 2019 quickly became the next must buy item. Who would have predicted a run on hand sanitizers and toilet paper? Who would have considered stocking up on surgical masks and Lysol products?
And what happens when you see the trend and react to it, only for the trend to quickly shift and reverse course. How many of us over bought toilet paper, used our supply over the summer, then found ourselves panic buying again in the Fall (as a third wave of COVID-19 infections struck the nation)?
No matter what you might expect, something will probably happen that you never could have expected. Something that is beyond your knowledge or powers of perception. Something that a reasonable person could never have planned for. Something that was out of your control.
After a life spent trying to make sure that I never ran out of supplies and parts. After a life spent planning and worrying about what might come next. After a lifetime spent living in the future at the expense of the present.
It… all… just… stopped.
Easter plans? Cancelled. Graduation celebration and Spring sports and events? Cancelled. Summer-time vacations, Fourth of July fireworks, and family reunions? Cancelled. Thanksgiving travel and Christmas expectations? Cancelled.
2020 was a year to remember. A time of difficulty to be sure, but also a transformative moment that will likely impact our children and grandchildren far more than we can imagine. What happens when all of the meticulous planning and strategies of the elder generations are discovered to have no impact on our daily lives and work? What happens when our store houses and business models cannot save us from catastrophic financial losses and closure? What happens when we must change our plans, not because we have failed, but because the world suddenly changed before our eyes?
2020 was the year in which the American people discovered that there were some things that were larger than our calendars and plans. We reacted in two distinct ways. We either raged against the coming of the light or we cowered in the darkness. Some turtled and hid, while others moved forward with what the other side saw as reckless abandon. Both were reactionary impulses.
Few learned the lessons of the year. Courage is important. Love is essential. Hope is not just wishing. And planning, as important as it might be, is no elixir against unforeseen disruptions and change.
As we prepare to celebrate the Christmas season, let us remember that it was in just such a moment that God sent His only Son into the world. It was a dark and troubling time. A time in which the strong hid in fear, while the weak toiled in the fields only to receive the divine proclamation of the coming of the King. It was a time when preparations were as important as flexibility. Where disasters opened divinely inspired paths. And when the miraculous was revealed by the terrible.
Perhaps 2020 was not as odd a year as we thought. Maybe it was just a return to the normal pattern of the in-breaking of God’s light. For a people who have been praying for it for so long, why should we not expect to see it today?
Wherever you are, whatever you are dealing with, however you are able, celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ. Today. God’s light is never dimmed. God’s plans are never thwarted. God’s promises are eternal. And God’s salvation is available to all who will call upon the name of the Lord.
Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.