Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Expect the Unexpected- More Senseless 'Advice'

Being slow to speak is a virtue, according to James 1:19
"God will never give you more than you can handle."  "There but the grace of God go I." Like other words that come out of our mouths to make us feel better, offering a popular phrase like "expect the unexpected" may be more cruel than beneficial.    

This trite bit of verbiage I've heard from physicians, clergy, spiritual directors, and others who should know better. Maybe it's a simple confession of ignorance, but using these words does not help.  

Where does it come from? The best I come up with is Ecclesiastes 9:11 (CEB):

I also observed under the sun that the race doesn’t always go to the swift, nor the battle to the mighty, nor food to the wise, nor wealth to the intelligent, nor favor to the knowledgeable, because accidents can happen to anyone. People most definitely don’t know when their time will come. (italics added) 

I appreciate italicized words in the NRSV. It simply states "time and chance happen to everyone." 

I get it, life is unpredictable and fragile. Most of us prefer certainty to mystery, because like fool's gold, the thought that life can be had on our terms may keep us avoiding our own powerlessness. But when someone is in crisis, mouthing this little ditty to them is not wisdom but idiocy. Yes, we know life is unpredictable. We didn't choose to be in this difficult place. Don't heap on the misery by stating the obvious. If it helps you, save it- and keep it- for yourself.  

The best way to overcome living by thoughtless sound bites is to be ourselves, as we really are- with another human being. It is to be our own best self. That means when faced with the terrifying uncertainty of our own -or another's- living or dying- we don't rely on catch phrases, but on the compassion of God as we have nurtured it-  and have experienced it.  

If we don't have God's compassion, we cannot offer it. No amount of repeating what you heard in that Dale Carnegie Seminar will change that.  

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