Happy Accidents

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I was listening to a podcast of the radio show, On Being, as host Krista Tippet interviewed the astrophysicist, Lord Martin Rees, about how scientific discoveries - specifically, the deep structure of space and time - relate to spiritual life. Call me crazy, but I am fascinated by this stuff.

Krista began by asking Rees how he got into the study of cosmology. Rather than blinding her with the brilliance of his single-minded career path, he replied in a starched Cambridge University accent, “Well, it was a series of lucky accidents, really.”

Rees went on to recount his early fortune in college getting paired up with an enthusiastic advisor who strongly influenced his interest in astrophysics. He also mentioned the plain luck of good timing, as he entered the field in the 1960’s, just when the big bang theory and black holes were being seriously discussed. These two factors deeply shaped his career trajectory.

Ah yes. The fine art of being at the right place at the right time.

Some might call it luck, or providence.

Or accidents.

If it was me being interviewed by Krista Tippet about my career path, I probably would have spoken in terms of the grand decisions I have made. “Well, Krista, you see, I got a masters degree and went to work in the health care field where I easily found a position that exactly matched my aspirations. Then after a couple of years I decided I wanted more general business experience, so I moved to a management consulting firm. I did that for a few years and then…”

Master of my own destiny. But what the haze of my memory bank fails to register are all the things that didn’t work out so well: the rejection letters; the unbearable jobs; the in-between times when I was confused and uncertain; the people who influenced me along the way.

I forget about the accidents.

In truth, it was those stressors that pushed me to search beyond the current station, to open another door, which led to another opportunity, which maybe worked out, maybe didn’t. A convoluted maze of conditions and possibilities, constrained within the deep structure of my own personal space and time.

Really, did I have anything to do with it at all?

We make our plans, and God laughs, or so the saying goes. And I wonder: was this – this career, this version of me living out my life’s calling – was this God’s Personal Master Plan for me, as it was promised in my youth, packaged so neatly in the Four Spiritual Laws? Or was it just a result of raw determination and happenstance?

I used to struggle with the spiritual, existential tension between taking initiative and surrendering to God’s will, wondering how these opposing forces play out in the course of life. I can’t tell the difference any more. All I know is that, theologically speaking, I no longer subscribe to either free will or predestination.

I believe in both.

I have learned to become more comfortable with probablity, with paradox, with the possibility that two contradictory ideas can both be one hundred percent true at the same time.

Every unplanned incident, every roadblock, every turn of events, every choice, every staying the course, these all add up to God’s hand in our journeys. When you look back on it, you can always see - His grace goes before us, behind us, and shines all around.

We're covered.

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