May 16, 2016

Healthy Uncertainty

Imagine yourself in these scenarios: It’s about 15 minutes before your Sunday morning service and an acolyte hasn’t shown up. What do you do? The end of the year is nearing and there’s a small budget shortfall. What’s the next step? You asked someone to write an article for the newsletter and they’ve flaked out. Who do you call?

Many church leaders probably can answer these questions without too much trouble. The Church, with our congregations relying on volunteers and success being measured not just by revenue but by intangible things like spiritual growth and health, is an unpredictable organization. It requires flexibility from its leaders.

In researching for his book about productivity, Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg found that the best decision makers tend to envision possible scenarios. “By pushing yourself to imagine various possibilities—some of which might be contradictory—you’re better equipped to make wise choices.”

We all do this somewhat naturally, and it’s a helpful skill to cultivate. We will make the best choices not when we decide what we want to happen and focus rigidly on that outcome, but to imagine many possibilities and be flexible as realities shift.

This has been helpful to me as my wife and I await the birth of our daughter. She could arrive any day now, quite literally. Although there are signs you can look for, there's no real way to predict the exact day or moment or even week she'll arrive. As I try to finish up tasks for my job before I’m out for a few weeks of paternity leave, I have to imagine what I can get done if she comes in two weeks and what I’ll do if she comes in two days.

In some ways, I’m learning, a family is a bit like a church. It grows and changes and enriches us. Being part of it also requires giving up a bit of the control we had over our lives when we were single. A new human being is entering my life and the world. I can imagine many possible futures, but no one really knows who she will be until she arrives. I am open to whoever she may be.

Perhaps this is another way of saying we have to let the Spirit do its work, while preparing ourselves for the likely scenarios we might encounter.

For many of us, including me, this kind of uncertainty can produce anxiety. I would prefer to have some control over what might happen, but I’m learning to let that go. I can prepare myself for the many possibilities life holds, like a priest might prepare for volunteers to get sick unexpectedly or surprise visit from a mentally ill neighbor, and remain open to whatever the future might hold.

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