5 Lessons from living with uncertainty

Over the past five months since we left the property (on March 12th) that first drew us out to Michigan, we have lived with a great deal of uncertainty. While my wife is the one who generally prefers order and organization, and I generally like a little more spontaneity in life, we have both been thrust into an uncomfortable — and if I’m honest, I’d also use the word “unwanted!” — amount of uncertainty.

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 4.41.04 PMUncertainty about where you’re going to be living can shake a person to the core and keep you up at night — I know, because we have lived (and are living) with that on our minds. Uncertainty about income also has a special way of rattling even the steadiest of nerves. When you honestly don’t know where the money for [insert your need here] is going to come from, and you are waaaaaaaay past the eleventh hour, you are thrust into a very unique space. Maybe you’re living with uncertainty in some area of your life (health, marriage, family, job, future etc…) and you know exactly what I’m talking about from first-hand experience.

When our lives are faced with this kind of life-affecting uncertainty, we have a couple of options available to us. First, we can choose to let fear shove its ugly head into our lives and we can make decisions based on what we fear might happen. For our family, the number of possible frightful outcomes seems large: we’re sleeping in a tent at a State Park for months, we’re living in our van down by the river (Ha!), we’ve living in someone else’s house (which could be a great situation, but sharing space with others also has significant challenges), we’re literally homeless — really not having a place to sleep and so we’re forced to choose between staying in Michigan or returning to family in Oregon. Living with family would be great (for a season), but it doesn’t feel like a long-term solution. Fear could cripple us into making a few “safe” moves that, ultimately may lead us to fall short of the dreams and goals God has put on our hearts.

A second option is anxiety. Anxiety is different from fear in that it focuses on worrying about what’s unknown. It’s not that you’re necessarily afraid of the unknown, you just end up fretting about not knowing what the outcome will be. Our son AJ struggles with anxiety, and it used to be so bad that it would get to the point where he would, literally, make himself sick. His anxiety worked like this.

AJ would say to himself, “I’m worried that [x] might happen and then I’ll get sick.” He then he would think so much about [x] and getting sick that eventually, he would make himself sick. Then, because he’s now sick, he’s confident [x] is also going to happen and whatever he’s facing now seems insurmountable.

In reality, neither [x] nor getting sick had to be a factor in his day, but he made both of them so big because of worry, they almost became unavoidable. Have you ever done that with your anxiety? Have you ever made your worry so big that the thing you were worried about became a reality because of your worry? That’s another option when faced with uncertainty.

A third option turns into paralysis and avoidance. Uncertainty leaves you paralyzed from taking any action, and so you begin to avoid all action and spend your time on less-than-satisfying activities. People who fall prey to this end up watching hours and hours of TV every day, they immerse themselves in video/iPhone/computer games, they spend hours surfing the web or binge for days and days on Netflix. Often those who suffer from paralysis use their pent up energy to eat, shop or do other things that fill up the time they should be spending on navigating the waters of uncertainty. Some people sleep 12-14 hours a day in order to avoid having to take action on the uncertainty they feel.

I’m sure there are many other options, these are the ones I’ve become acquainted with over the past five months. However, through this season, and through fighting off the temptations listed above,  I’ve also learned some powerful lessons that are shaping me into a better leader, a stronger man and a more fulfilled person. Here are the five biggest lessons I’ve learned about dealing with uncertainty:

First, faith trumps fear, but not how I used to think it did. I used to think conquering fear was like a David and Goliath moment: once you put your faith into action, the giant of fear would take a rock to the dome and collapse dead on the battle field. End of story. Today, I know better. Faith doesn’t always destroy fear, but sometimes resides right next to fear, and my choice to live by faith is met with the very reality of the fear standing, deceptively large, next to it. Believing God is bigger than my fears does not eliminate my fears. In fact, I’ve come to see that often my fears seems even larger when I begin moving in faith. Instead, faith allows me the freedom to navigate life despite my fears hanging around, and ultimately, faith gives me the courage to press on when fear would rather I shrink back and do nothing.

Second, all the “isms” about the strength of a good team/family/friend etc… are true. Solomon had a few things to say about the importance of good friendships: two is better than one and “a chord of three is not easily broken.” Maybe you’ve heard the story that one plow horse can do [x] amount of work, but, put two plow horses together, and you don’t get double the work — more like triple or even quadruple the labor of one horse! Even Chinese Fortune Cookies reveal truth about the strength of friendship: “Stay on the current path, a friend will soon help you reach your goals.” During this season, I’ve learned that all those things are true about living life in community with others. Maybe it’s a spouse, a family member, a team or teammate, or even just one close friend who walks with you — the reality is that God strengthens us exponentially with the faith, encouragement and belief of others. Check out this group of amazing people who have journied with us! How many times did Paul write about the encouragement he drew from the believers around him? Godly friendships can make all the difference!

Third, excuses are like armpits — we all have them, and they stink. There are a million (yes, exactly one million) excuses people use for staying in the boat, instead of exercising their faith to walk on water. I think I’ve pondered about 371,698 of those excuses myself, and I’ve heard most of the rest used in my conversations with others. There will always be appealing reasons why stepping out in faith isn’t convenient, easy, reasonable or sound. But there is just one reason that trumps them all: Jesus is calling.

Fourth, waiting is an active process. Waiting is not a passive activity. Sometimes Christian equate “waiting in faith” to doing nothing. They equate prayer with inactivity or passivity, rather than realizing that faith motivates action, and that waiting for God to show up in mighty ways most often occurs as we keep pressing on! Gideon gathered a small army, assembled them for combat and prepared for action…while He waited for God to do the impossible (Judges 7). David ran to meet Goliath though He depended on God for the victory (1 Samuel 17:20-49). Paul moved from city-to-city, sharing the Gospel while waiting for God to redirect, confirm or change his plans (e.g.: Acts 16:6-7). Esther made plans to engage in a forbidden meeting with the king while she waited for God to save her people (Esther 4:16). Abraham was called to move his family and live nomadically while he waited for God to reveal the route and the promised inheritance (Hebrews 11:8). Moses and the children of Israel wandered for 40 years while they waited for God to finish preparing them for conquest (The whole book of Numbers!). Deborah marched into battle with Barak while she waited for God to fulfill prophecy (Judges 4:6-9). This season of life has confirmed for me that waiting is an active process.

Fifth, daily disciplines are crucial to navigating thru uncertainty. Many days over the past few months have started the same way for me. I wake up, try to remember where we are staying, and then try to figure out what that day holds for me to do. More than “just a few times,” Traci has worked on the menu as the day transpired, not days or even weeks in advance like we often do when living in more “stable” environments. Unplanned days can disappear into wasted and lost time, quickly, if you don’t navigate them with some plan of attack. For me, those plans are often developed early in the morning, or late at night (the night before!) when I have quiet time to read God’s Word, spend time in prayer, and seek God’s help for immediate, and long-term, direction. As I look back over our 6-week road trip, I know I lost some days simply because I let my routines slip due to laziness, exhaustion, the feeling of just trying to survive or falling into the rut of grinding out another 13-hour car ride. Even in those moments, it’s possible to hold routines and keep navigating the uncertainty. Thought I lost some days, I’m thankful God enabled me to grab more than I gave up. Daily routines for physical health, spiritual revival and marital bliss are crucial to navigating through uncertainty.

Uncertainty is a path few of us enjoy traveling, at least if we must, we’d prefer not to travel it for long. However, the life of faith often demands sailing in uncertain waters with unknown destinations lying ahead. I’m learning to travel these waters in faith, and growing through the learning process. How about you? How are you facing uncertainty? What lessons have you learned? If you would add something to this list, I’d love to see your thoughts in the comments.

Go ahead and take the plunge, life — even the uncertainties of life — are better on the water!

ge, life — even one filled with uncertainty — is better on the water!

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One Response to 5 Lessons from living with uncertainty

  1. Tom Tanner says:

    Working through that right now, buddy. Thanks for the reminder!

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