My child, if you accept my words
and treasure up my commandments within you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding,
if you indeed cry out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures—
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God. – Proverbs 2:1-5
This week I have several times found myself having conversations with someone about the frustrating of not being able to do the things that we want. These were not discussions about the small details of life, like whether to have chicken or fish for dinner. These conversations were larger scale, dealing with not being able to have the life that we want for ourselves. In a few of the instances this had to do with the limitations of health problems and aging meaning that the freedom to make choices becomes limited. To some degree for all of us the reality is that we are not in complete control of our lives, and at some point our range of available choices becomes even smaller. We are not guaranteed to get the things we want out of life. It is difficult to come to terms with this, whether it is a mild disappointment or severe anguish. We are limited or finite, and we rail against our finitude.
My response in these conversations was that off the top of my head I could not think of any figure in the bible who gets the life they want. The disciples are pulled out of their normal lives to follow Christ, and endure much as disciples. While Abraham does eventually have a son, it takes much anguish and many years of waiting before that happens. That was certainly not the life he had pictured for himself. Moses’ life has a variety of times of difficulty, and ends with him dying before reaching the Promised Land. Paul was martyred for his ministry after enduring many hardships. As I have thought more, I can find some counter-examples, but the reality is that most of the major examples of great faith that we encounter in the bible are people whose lives do not go the way they want it to go.
Not getting what we want out of life is one of the great challenges to faith. Yet it is also for many the pathway to deeper faith. We can struggle against our limits, or we can trust the God who transcends such limits to lead us into a life we did not expect. There is no guarantee that following God will lead to anything easy or to a clear sense of our purpose in life. Yet the history of the saints is the history of trusting the uncertain promise that God does indeed bring new life and meaning into a life that does not unfold the way we would choose. In that trust we may find wisdom.