It’s Choice, Not Chance that Matters

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” —Luke 13:1-5

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” —Luke 13:1-5

Life is a marvelous and mysterious mixture of chance and choice. There is a great deal about out lives that is not ours to choose. We don’t control the weather and, (even though we often try), we can’t control each other. We take precautions and try to stay safe, but we can’t eliminate the possibility of something dreadful happening. When good things that are beyond our control happen to us, we tend to take them in stride, accept them as our due and rarely feel grateful. But when bad things happen, we often feel anxious, worried and afraid. We’re full of questions: why did this happen, whom can we blame, how safe are we, anyway?

Those are the questions for which the disciples wanted answers from Jesus. They were discussing an atrocity that cruel Pilate had committed against their fellow Galileans. And then there was that tragic accident of a tower collapse causing multiple deaths. ‘Why did this happen, who is to blame?’ they wanted to know. Jesus’ answer was that there is no answer to such questions. ’Don’t speculate about things you can’t control; concentrate, instead, on choices you can make!’ he told them. That’s the meaning of Jesus words, “Unless you repent, you will all perish.”

We waste so much time, energy, and anxiety over things that are out of our control. I tried for many years to change the direction of a personal relationship, but I never, ever, could determine more than half of what was going on between us! I could change myself, yes, but not the other person. How we’d love to steer our adult children’s lives in what we consider to be the right direction. But we really can’t, and we shouldn’t try. We’ve raised them and now the best we can do for them is to let them fly and then stand by!

When I was a pastor serving in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, two men working the furnace at the steel plant were badly burned. I visited both in the hospital and marveled at how differently each worker dealt with the tragedy. One was consumed by bitter questions that I couldn’t answer — nobody could: ‘Why did this happen to me?’ What kind of God would let this horrible thing happen, anyway?’ The other told me how grateful he was that he wasn’t even more seriously injured, or even killed. He said the accident forced him to make some decisions about what was really important in his life, and what was not.

Two men injured in the same tragic accident chose how they were going to deal with it. One chose bitterness, the other, gratitude. Neither man had any control over what had happened to them, but each could choose how he would respond to the life-changing event.

We have no control over our own mortality. Life is short and fragile — it can turn on a dime. But here is the great gift: we can decide how we shall live before we die. Jesus’ call to repent lest we perish is a call to live with a kind of spiritual urgency, to decide what is important and to reject what is not. We can decide, as the author Dawna Markova put it, that:
“I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.”

What if you lived this year as if you knew it would be the last year of your life? What would be your priorities, what choices would you make? What would you let go of? What would you make sure you got done? Whom would you spend time with and what would you say to them? Answering those questions and then acting on them is the great work of repentance, of turning around in life and choosing what’s important and forgetting about what is not. If you try this spiritual exercise, you might  find that you don’t take the good things in your life so much for granted anymore. And you might leave off anguishing over all those things you can’t do a thing about!

You often see tombstones in cemeteries that display someone’s date of birth followed by a dash and space left for a date of death to be engraved later. It’s that dash that never fails to move me, that dash representing the time we have left before we die. Jesus is calling us to attend to that dash, to have done with fear-filled, useless speculations and to live for what’s truly important. He calls us to live before we die, lest we perish before we’ve ever fully lived at all.

© Edward R. Dufresne 2016

4 Thoughts on “It’s Choice, Not Chance that Matters

  1. Pär Kettis on March 1, 2016 at 6:20 am said:

    Very thoughtful and useful. I will start right away to see my days in that perspective. IF I manage to make progressiv I will report back to your site. Thanks.

  2. Good Morning, Edward, At age 88, I already DO live my life as though it is my last on earth, and it makes each moment almost excruciatingly precious. It is as though I am a child again, seeing things face to face instead of through a glass darkly. Colors are brighter – food tastes better. Love is more poignant – thoughts are more exciting – the warmth of a hearth side fire on a cold winter night is more tenderly received – the harmonies in music are more brilliant, as are the colors of a sunset and the vastness of the stars. Life seems to have that warm golden glow that comes from a setting sun that is low on the horizon. I too am low on the horizon,, and my heart breaks to know that I will soon sink and no longer be able to perceive all the mysteries of our beloved world….. to such an extent that I am often full of fear that the next moment will be my last.

    My life has been particularly blessed. I sailed around the world on a 96 ft. Brigantine. I was given the best of educations. I have enjoyed near perfect health, I have a loving family, a warm safe house, and my mind seems to be constantly filled with all manner of exciting thoughts. I don’t want to part with any of these things, but knowing that I must makes each remaining moment more precious than ever, causing both pain and fear..

    On face book the other day there was a picture of an empty bench with the question “Who would you choose to sit with on this bench for an hour?” There were many answers, one of which affectionately said, “Me Mum”. I thought for a bit and chose God, because I have so MANY questions for Him. But I realized that I probably would not be able to understand God’s answers, because my perception is limited by my mortal body which has only five senses.

    And the thought came to me that we mortals probably could not handle the concept of living one continuous life through all Eternity – for billions of years – , and God, in His infinite wisdom, has divided our existence into increments of 80 to 90 year, so that just as we go to sleep each night, we will go to sleep between our existences, waking fresh each morning in a new form. (Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it cannot grow.) What form that will be is a mystery known only to God, but it does mean that after the sun sets here on earth,, there will be another sun rise somewhere else, and that gives me hope..

    Affectionately, Julie P. Nicholson

    P,.S. I wish this font were larger. I can hardly see what I have written. I hope it makes sense.

  3. Dear Edward
    thank you for your faithfulness in writing words that have touched my heart this day. this past October 8th I turned 70 and although I still have a tremendous “pep” in my “step” my line of thinking has changed considerably. I never spent time thinking about the dash as I “dash” through life but recently I look at my internal and external world with wonder and awe. Internally I have never wasted energy, as you addressed in this beautiful profound writing, on things I can not control but now have even started saving my energy on things I “thought” wee worth controlling “grin”…. finally I feel a little maturity directing my journey… I was hoping I would stay forever young … I look externally and try to decide what in my life needs weeding out and at this point it is the thought that I feel is growth… perhaps tomorrow I will actually throw out something that does not need to be part of the dash anymore…
    For today: the memories of your visits and the love of our friendship warms my aging heart [which I believe is very healthy …] love to you and Elizabeth this day
    Patti, Bill and Miss Britt

  4. Colleen on March 3, 2016 at 9:12 am said:

    You can’t imagine how timely your message is for me today.
    Thank you.

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