Ready Or Not, But In All Cases Not

The Uncertainty of the Future and Our Lack of Control

Cali Yee / 7.20.21

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you complain enough about the bad stuff in your life the people listening are bound to either respond with a general formality or with advice they think will help you. It doesn’t quite matter how you want them to respond because after a while they will say anything to get you off your soap box. One phrase I have heard many-a-time is, It will happen when you are ready. And the only thing for which I am “ready,” is a termination of that phrase.

Perhaps you, yourself, have been told those words while looking for a job to pay for your overpriced rent or expensive mortgage. You think, “I may not be ready, but the bank sure is!” Or maybe your best friend is trying to comfort you in your singleness, saying, “God will give you the right person when you are ready.” But no matter how much we want one, God never promised us a significant other, just like my parents never promised me a puppy for Christmas.

In whatever context it is said, when you are ready” sets expectations upon a person to get ready – to begin actions of self-betterment that may or may not lead us to the future conclusions we desire. Taking actions of personal growth is not necessarily a bad thing. What makes it difficult, however, is believing that our growth is going to guarantee we’ll get what we want or make us more deserving of that which we seek. Cause and effect — it should be simple! But the future is not ours, no matter how much we prepare for or stress over it. 

Oliver Burkeman, in his article for Mockingbird’s Surprise Issue, considers the future:

Contrary to the promises of countless books on productivity, you can never know that any sequence of actions will result in the professional success or the satisfying relationship you desire, just as there’s no number of additional hours you can build into your vacation departure plans so as to be certain you’ll make your flight. Or rather, you can be certain, but only once you’ve arrived at the airport, and you’re cooling your heels in the terminal, at which point the certainty you previously craved is worthless, and there’s something new to fret about instead: will the plane land at your destination in time for the train you need to catch there? And so on, and so on, until the hour of your death. This, I think, is what worry is at its core: the experience of a mind attempting to generate a feeling of security about the future, failing, and then trying again and again — as if the very effort of worrying might itself somehow forestall disaster

The idea of “when you’re ready” convinces us of two things: that if we improve ourselves we will get what we want, and that we somehow have control over our futures. Personal improvement and achievement, unfortunately, do not guarantee our success. Nor does control over our own behavior equal control over our environment and its reactions.

No matter how many self-help books I buy about becoming a more confident and strong person (books that will sit on my shelf until the next garage sale) I will not change the outcome of my relationship status. Maybe that status will change to *in-a-relationship* and I’ll falsely attribute it to my ability to improve myself, when in reality my self-betterment has little to do with God’s plan for my life. But if the status doesn’t change and I remain single despite my best efforts, I’ll most likely blame God or the quality of the “fish in the sea.”

Some will say that knowing God is in control is comforting. And to some extent it is. But to know that God is in control and that I am not is also greatly frustrating. Try (as we do) to hold onto control, God is there to remind us that what we are holding onto is nothing more than an empty box with a sticky note inside that says, “you never had it in the first place.”

Acknowledging our lack of control is a lesson in humility. One that we never asked for (unless you ask God to humble you, in which case I commend you). This lesson of giving up control also releases us from the toil of self-improvement. It means freedom from redundant self-help books, “inspiring” TED-talks, and outdated dating manuals. It means freedom from believing that we are only deserving of love and affection if we work for it. 

Not being in control is like having a holy chauffeur to drive you around the game of life. It doesn’t mean that the road won’t have potholes or rush hour traffic that puts you back three spaces. It does, however, mean that the glass partition safely restricts you to being a backseat driver. And that person holding the steering wheel is a loving and grace-filled Father.