Controlling the Unexpected

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According to 18th century British poet Alexander Pope, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Although as a perfectionist and someone who thrives on routine, my immediate reaction to his words would be to disagree. However, I am actively seeking to stretch my preconceived notions and prejudices, especially when it comes to challenging situations. Possessing a penchant for order, clear expectations, and knowledge of what exactly I should expect in daily life, I do not always adjust to unexpected changes gracefully.

In fact, I think as a whole humanity tends to be geared towards order, structure, routine, and regular habits. When faced with the unexpected a natural reaction usually is to question the purpose or cause of the upheaval of our “control”. As recent as the new changes [developments as I prefer to call them] to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the issue of the death penalty, people seem to have [over]reactions to something new, and possibly unexpected! Now, I am not going to provide you may thoughts on the new developments on Catholic Church teaching on capital punishment—I hope to write about this on a later time—it is just one example of how mankind does not seamlessly adjust to unexpected changes.

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The words of C.S. Lewis appropriately describe our seeking to “control the unexpected”. In his work A Grief Observed the Christian apologist declared, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination” [emphasis added]. Humanity in the 21st century seeks to dominate all aspects of our life. Even the abortion clinics in the United States contain a euphemism—Planned Parenthood—as if children are something to be ultimately controlled! Why cannot we plan all aspects of life? Would it not be easier to live each and every day free of the stresses of the unknown and unexpected?

Control over all variance that a creature with free will such as man would in fact actually lead to a cold-indifferent robotic society. Attempts to eliminate pain, risk, and the unknown of life would also mean that joy, humor, and creativity would disappear. C.S. Lewis summed up this tension between free will and pain in the world best in The Case for Christianity:

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.

Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.

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1. Love Worth the Unexpected: After a busy week of wrangling and wearing out my three children through taking them to the park, walks around the neighbor, piggyback rides, picking up strewn toys—for the 100th time!—and trying to put the children to bed for what feels like the 1,000th time, I am tanked. Drained out energy I oftentimes lack the strength to be fully present to my wife.

When I am motivated by controlling my kids sleep schedule instead of love, I actually lose control. Love involves permitting free will to occur and setting boundary-lines to avoid self-destructive habits. God as the All-Loving Father graced humanity with the ability to freely choose Him or to reject Him. He provided guidelines for love to grow and flourish both in expected—and expected ways. Freedom involves the unexpected from time to time and love is always worth the unexpected—we just have to make a daily decision to choose love over selfish arbitrary control!

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2. Creativity of the Creator: Along with love being worth the unexpected, total control over one’s life actually stymies creativity—an essential feature of love. Whenever I think of creative individuals, famous or people within my life, words that immediately come to mind include: passionate, intelligent, desire, attentive, and inventive. Albert Einstein, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Thomas Edison are individuals that I think of right away that fit this above description. A further trait of creative individuals is that the act of creation originates not from need, but rather from love and or pursuit of a higher reality.

As a creature created by the Creator, man is not meant to be a static, robotic entity. Creativity naturally entails an involvement on behalf of the Creator with creation. Evidence of this is found in Genesis 1 which shows God actively involved and attentive to the creation of the universe—paying heed to both the whole and the details. Throughout the day, my children act creatively by lovingly engaging in imaginative play via erecting Lego-structures, racing toy cars, or dressing up stuffed animals for “dance parties”. While general boundaries exist in play, the joy, creativity, and humor of childhood [and life as a whole too!] exist when the constraints of control do not rule absolutely supreme.

According to J.R.R. Tolkien, “The most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing [controlling] other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.” Regulating reality is not inherently bad, as with most things moderation is the key. Limiting surprises is not necessarily a bad thing. Humans need routine to thrive. The chief purpose of life, for any of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. Our freedom to choose influence over our surroundings should not be at the expenses of our soul or our fellow man!