Having kids and giving them gifts that they will like (or use) can be a challenge. Toys invariably follow rapidly-changing trends, with the latest plastic or electronic gizmos promoted to kids online and in animated TV series. Despite attempts to push back and stem the flow, our house still has a number of toys that appeared on a birthday or Christmas “wish list” one year, but have since grown old and dusty.
We don’t always strike out. There are plenty of other toys that continue to get played with, books that drive the imagination, and practical gifts that remain in use. On the other hand, sometimes a toy is discarded before the wrapping paper is picked by the garbage truck.
As a parent, I want to give my children good gifts, whether giving presents that come wrapped in paper, or just purchasing things that might benefit them. Still, if I spend hard-earned money on my kids, I want them to grow, learn, or at least have some fun. While some choices can be easily ruled out as a waste of money, it is nearly impossible to always predict what gifts will be winners, versus what will be duds.
As human beings, though, perhaps we should be used to this. We don’t know what will happen in the future, as this passage from James reminds us.
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
James 4:14-15 NIV
So, what do we do about it? It may feel like we are lost when we are not in control. It may feel like we’re on the wrong path when our plans are foiled by circumstances. In these cases, we can either wallow in self-pity, or we can try something else.
For one thing, we can accept it. I don’t believe that God wants us to abdicate reasonable planning and preparation entirely. However, even if we believe that we are carefully following God’s leading, we must realize that what we think will happen could very well change from day to day. When we accept that we are not in control, it may be scary. When we realize that God is in control, though, and that He loves us, we can find comfort in letting go and giving over the outcome of our lives to Him. Yes, we should actively seek His will, and step up to participate in the opportunities that He gives us. We just don’t know – for sure – what that will look like each day.
For another thing, we can look for the actual plan. I have had learn to not just hang my head when things are going haywire, but instead to try and look around so that I might see what God has in mind for me. It might not be dramatic or obvious, but even detours are part of the history that God sees.
When an event is cancelled, or the traffic forces us to change our route, how often are these opportunities, rather than obstacles? God isn’t surprised when you get sick, or when a project is canceled (although He cares about your pain in either situation). He is still in control, even when sinful human beings continue to fight against Him, and when our mistakes and rebellion lead to consequences.
As a result, the next time that your life seems to be on the wrong track, take a breath, accept what you can’t control, and look to see if the God who loves you has set out something else in your life that you might have otherwise missed. You might find that you’re on the right track, after all.