Chaos. Exhaustion. Bliss. All words I’d use to describe the past eight weeks since our third child, a baby girl, came home from the hospital. We’ve already got two boys – a four year old and a two year old – but there’s something special about having a girl. Throughout this year, everyone told my wife and I to buckle up for a wild ride. After all, we’re now officially outnumbered!
Even though we’ve done this twice, I convinced myself that this time things would be different. Sure, we’d be a little tired and drink a little extra coffee. But I wouldn’t let the healthy routines that bring me joy like exercise and having a little fun everyday go by the wayside. I’ve always been a little naïve!
When Life Feels Chaotic
No one likes it when life feels chaotic. We convince ourselves that it’s short term. It’s just “a season.” If we can just get through the next semester, or the next big project at work, or the next phase in our family’s life, things will be different. But almost like the seasons in Florida, it’s funny how the “seasons” of chaos can seamlessly blend into each other!
Sometimes, exasperated, we decide to fight back. We’ll be more disciplined. We’ll get a better handle on our schedule. Or read that new book by the latest expert trending on social media with a “new” technique to hack our health, time-management, or relationships. We hate chaos so much that we convince ourselves if we just tried a little harder, we’d finally be in control.
One expert in my social media feed recently promised that if you’ll follow his lead and wake up at 4:35a, hit the gym by five, weigh your chicken breasts before you cook them, take your wife on two dates a week and each of your kids on one, accomplish your highest business priority first every day, and make it to sleep by 9:37p (not 9:36 or 9:38), you can have optimal results in every area of your life! If you’re a little tired after reading this (as I was), that’s okay. In fact, I think it teaches us something. As much as we hate uncertainty, our fight for control is usually pretty fruitless and exhausting.
Control, Condemnation, and Spiritual Chaos
Unfortunately, this very same need for control can spill over into our spiritual lives. We know we’re supposed to read our Bibles, pray, spend time at church, spend time in community, spend time serving others and sharing our faith. And these are all good practices that I recommend! Somehow though, we make them an end in themselves – good works we manufacture that we think make us more spiritually put-together. And when life catches up with us and we fail to do them, the result is almost always an unhelpful dose of self-condemnation.
Why do we do this to ourselves? I think because effort-based religion is a more predictable substitute than a dynamic relationship with the wild and unpredictable Spirit of the Living God. As much as we desire to be close to Him, we’re a little scared of what might happen if we actually submitted our wills to His – and He actually showed up in response!
As I’ve been rereading the Christmas narratives, I’ve noticed that every major character faced this exact choice – do I cling to what is safe and predictable, or do I submit my life to the far more dynamic work of God’s Spirit and trust Him with the results?
Mary and Joseph planned on a routine, predictable engagement and first year of marriage. But little did they know God had bigger plans. They would have central roles in the greatest drama in human history – God’s mission to rescue our world through His Son. As Gabriel visited both to tell them about their new mission, his first words to both were ‘do not be afraid.’
Of course, even as the details of the story unfolded, things didn’t go smoothly. There was an international shortage of hotel rooms because of Caesar’s census and Joseph didn’t book one soon enough in Bethlehem. As Mary went into labor, all their plans went out the window and Jesus ended up being born in a stable. His first visitors weren’t kings and royal ambassadors but humble shepherds.
Yet, in all of this, because of their willingness to submit to a plan far more beautiful but also far crazier than their own, they had front row seats to the very greatest miracle in history – the moment God invaded our planet and became a man.
A Lesson and a Challenge
I think there’s a lesson here for us. Like Mary and Joseph, those of us who are in Christ are “blessed” and “highly favored” by God. He has a calling and a purpose for our lives that supersedes anything we could ever ask or imagine. He has called us not to a life of routine drudgery or empty religion. In fact, that kind of faith, a faith of our own making and discipline, won’t get us very far anyway when the storms of life inevitably come.
In Philippians 3, Paul describes how he left a life of impeccable religious discipline and control for an even better righteousness, the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ. Mary and Joseph displayed this kind of faith in God’s grace over their lives when they willingly embraced a future they never would’ve expected or chosen for themselves.
If your life feels just a little chaotic right now (and almost everyone’s does this time of year), I want to challenge you to do something. Rather than trying to regain control, what if you looked for God’s grace – His favor to you – right there in the middle of the chaos. What if you opened your mind and heart to the realization that there may be more going on spiritually in this moment than what you see. What if you let faith fill the gaps of uncertainty that you’d normally try to fill with more control? Just like Mary and Joseph, you and I may get to experience Jesus firsthand in a way like never before!