I don’t always do well with unwanted surprises.
This became clear recently as I stared incredulously into the face of an airline gate agent who had just declared: “I’m sorry. This flight is closed.”
Her statement begged lots of reasonable questions: “Closed? What does that even mean? How can the flight be ‘closed,’ if I have a ticket and am not on the plane? How can I be bumped from an international flight, when the next one available is a full 24 hours later? Will I be reimbursed for having to arrive in Dubai a day late? What kind of airline …?”
I don’t remember the details of her insufficient answers, because I was too busy wrestling with another question intruding upon my modest tantrum: “Why do I react so poorly when I don’t get my way?”
It seems to me that the way we handle unwanted surprises says a lot about our character. And I suspect I’m not the only one who wishes this were not true.
Like some of you, I am still waiting for the truth I say I believe to be rooted so deeply in my heart that it more fully informs my living.
I believe God ultimately is in control of all my circumstances. The Scriptures say that God is “the Almighty one,” who has power over everything. The implications of this ought to inform our reaction to unwanted surprises: Nothing happens to any of us, good or bad, unless God allows it.
God is not random in his control, but righteous, loving and purposeful. He has a purpose, perhaps many purposes, in allowing those circumstances that keep us from getting our way. He is teaching us trust, perseverance, obedience. Sometimes he’s allowing us to experience the consequences of our sin.
Whatever God, the almighty one, allows, he ultimately does so to accomplish his purposes. And those good purposes always bless those whose trust is in him.
One of the most treasured verses in the New Testament is also one that is quickly forgotten when life doesn’t go our way. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” Romans 8:28 (NIV).
Clearly all things in life are not good. But God uses all things to work out his good in those who love him.
I eventually ended my stare-down with the airline gate agent, and looked instead at my composed, temperate 21-year-old son. He saw my frustration with the airline and no doubt sensed my inner struggle. His look suggested that his dad could have handled it better.
As I returned his gaze, I was reminded of something I’d been praying about for weeks. I’d been asking God to allow me time to reconnect meaningfully with my firstborn, who is away from home at college.
Could it be that this unwanted surprise, a surprise I was handling so poorly, was actually an answer to that prayer? Ouch.
God, the almighty one, knew what I could not have known: The mission trip we were just starting would be too packed with activities for us to have much privacy. So God graciously answered my prayer for time alone with my son – just not the way I would have planned it.
As it turned out, we enjoyed a great day together – just the two of us – and still accomplished all that needed to be done on our trip.
I’ll soon forget much of that “stuff that needed to get done.”
But I hope I don’t forget this simple truth when things don’t go my way: We really can trust that God’s ways are better.