Last weekend, Charis, Alethia and I went to Regent’s annual retreat in Warm Beach together. This is my second time around. Although it is a real challenge to bring a baby to a retreat (causing both of us to miss out some talks and activities), we still enjoyed it very much. This year’s title is called “Surprised by God: From Fear to Longing”. Since I missed almost half of the talks, I didn’t get to listen to the whole message, but the main thrust is mainly about “We don’t own our journeys, God does.”
Before I met Charis, I was a rather easy-going person, never planned what I did beyond the next day. I was proud of my flexibility and how I could flow like a tai-chi master, adapting to each new situation as things develop and not having to panic. When Charis and I got married, my so-called flexibility became the source of her frustration, because she’s a very much organized person, with plans extending up to two weeks in advance. Our personality differences has been a constant annoyance to our relationship, but since I started school last year, I have become a much more organized person than before. I actually bought and started using a planner. (That’s actually the only way I could survive my graduate studies and all the assignment due dates.) I also recently adopted David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity-boosting method, have a to-do list carry all my mental burden. Besides planning for every day and every week of the semester in advance, I have actually spent a whole night planning out the next two years of my education, assembling all my courses neatly into an impeccable sequence, fulfilling all the degree requirements and course prerequisites, making sure I would graduate in April 2009. I was so excited that night when I found out a perfect plan how I could graduate in 3 years, which very few could do with a MDiv program. Everything is going well as planned. I just need to persevere and I’ll be able to “conquer” this mountain of education requirements and come out as a fully equipped person, much more capable than before.
However, in reality I’m actually operating in the 7000rpm red zone. This past Monday night, I didn’t get home until 11pm because I had to lead a bible study at church. After resting a bit, I started to do my biblical hermeneutics assignment at midnight, planning to pull an all-nighter. My assignment was to read 80 pages of translated material written by a 19th century German scholar (H. Gunkel on form criticism), and my goodness what a beast it is! When it was about 2am, I started falling asleep at my desk unconsciously. I kept reading and falling asleep. During the waking moments, I was reading, but I wasn’t absorbing any material. I was just merely flipping pages. I was in such agony I considered dropping this assignment, which was due 8am the next morning. But the course syllabus requires us to hand in at least 8 out of 9 assignments. Miss two, we automatically fail the class. I had a choice. I could drop this assignment, and hope that I won’t get myself into such a situation again for the next 10 weeks, which is actually very likely to happen again; or I could keep pulling this all-nighter and force myself to finish off this 80-page article and write a 2-page summary within 6 hours until the sun dawns, but I would definitely be dozing off during my 8am class. Charis then came to visit me in my study. It hurts her to see me in such agony. She suggested that I drop this class. Initially I thought I couldn’t, because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to graduate on time. I would also mess up my plan for the next two years due to the course prerequisites. Not being able to graduate on time also means that I’d have to go on another year without income, not to mention explaining to family and friends why it is taking so long for me to finish this degree. However, if I continued to study in such a condition, I would be wasting my education. There is absolutely no point of studying if I’m not absorbing the material but just merely doing it for the sake of handing in homework assignments. Charis asked me which way would I regret more, if I am going to look back a few decades from now. So we prayed together, seeking for God’s will. Then we made a decision unanimously – I’ll drop the course.
I felt so much lighter after I made this decision. I felt so much more peaceful that I have finally let go. Now my future has become much more foggier. Now all my plan is messed up. I won’t be able to graduate on time. Everything’s up in the air, but somehow I feel happier. If I delay my graduation date, I don’t “have” to take the courses that I have fixated according to my plan. New possibilities seem to have opened up because of this. Just as the retreat title says, I’m “Surprised by God”. Suddenly I find myself walking in the path of faith again. When I was so sure I could graduate on time, everything felt so certain. Everything was within my grasp. I didn’t need God to be my Lord and show me the way, I just needed him to bless the way I have already chosen. My path was devoid of faith. But now as my life took a sudden turn, I’m letting God be my God, and letting him show me how to navigate the path ahead. Actually it is more exciting when you don’t own your journey, because there’s a way better tour guide in our life, whose ultimate goal is to give us the most abundant life experience that’s possible (John 10:10).
I don’t know why, but after the retreat, I keep hearing fellow schoolmates suddenly discovering new opportunities arising in their journeys. Some have decided to finish their program early and go back to the states. All of us who planned things out nicely suddenly realized that we don’t own our journeys, but God.