“Miss Jennifer, Miss Jennifer! I have a new theory! Do you want to hear it?”
I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard those words this summer. One of my new little friends, Riley*, has decided that she wants to be a great physicist. From the moment she started coming over to my house, she displayed an intense yearning to know all the how’s and why’s of life and the universe. Since I didn’t think it would be appropriate to go into religious territory, I stuck to the topic of physics (which, as I’ve said before, I think is very close to the topic of God anyway).
She took to this subject — theoretical physics in particular — like a duck to water. She came over to my house every chance she got, sometimes staying for hours at a time, to eagerly tell me about all her new ideas based on what she’d learned from our talks about topics like string theory or Schwarzschild wormholes. She’d follow me around the house and help me put away toys or fold laundry as she chattered excitedly about all her ideas, which belied a piercing intelligence far beyond her nine years. She always asked me if I had any more information for her, and I was hardly able to keep up with her insatiable appetite for knowledge. Even at the time, I was aware that I’d never forget these moments: spending the long, hot days of summer 2008 chatting with my little nine-year-old neighbor about the most wondrous mysteries of the universe while we worked together to complete some of the most mundane tasks in the universe…there was something very special about it.
I was caught off guard, then, when I found out recently that she’s no longer allowed to come over to my house.
I had a brief, awkward conversation with one of her guardians about it, but evidently the decision stands. When she came to tell me, she looked like she was going to cry. She was the one who said, as I mentioned in my first story, that she really needed someone to talk to. Now, when I see her around outside, she doesn’t talk to me much at all. Just one-word answers here and there; occasionally a sentence.
My husband has a saying that “it’s never about you, ” meaning that 99% of the times we think that people are snubbing us because they don’t like us or we’ve done something to offend them, it’s actually not about us at all. I hope that’s true in this case. I thought I was on good terms with her relatives with whom she lives, and they’re still friendly when they see us.
Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be sad.
I look at the physics books out on my desk, come across links I’d emailed myself about quantum mechanics, and think of my little friend for whom I was going to read these things. The other girls are frequently out of town this summer, and when they are around they’ve been spending most of their time at her house so that she’s not alone, so my children and I have our house to ourselves again. I’d gotten so used to having them around — sometimes up to eight hours a day — that life feels incomplete without them.
When our paths first crossed, it was an amazing experience of witnessing the hand of God at work in such a palpable way. Yet, as I have so often done, I fell into the temptation to use my deepening connection with God to satisfy that never-ending human urge to want to know the future. Rather than focusing on my daily bread, I spent too much time making assumptions about the details of the bread-delivery schedule for the indefinite future. And when it didn’t play out the way I wanted or expected it too, I was left with deep disappointment.
As I’ve mentioned before, this is one of the hardest parts of the Christian life for me. I know it’s silly to spend so much time evaluating the world and speculating about the future from my perspective, since my information is so woefully incomplete. But the temptation to want more than my daily bread, to use the graces of today to make predictions about the graces of the future, is always there.
So, today, my house feels incomplete. Yet the story is incomplete.
Maybe as soon as I publish this post Riley will knock at my door to announce that she has permission to come over again, pouring out new theories before she even steps into the entryway. Or maybe I’ll never speak to her again. This story, the story of my life, the story of humanity, is incomplete.
I’m beginning to see that a hallmark of the peace of Christ is thriving as a player in an incomplete story, reading well from a script that we get only one line at a time. A recovering control freak, I’m slow in learning to embrace the fact that we live our lives with only minuscule amounts of information, and that our entire earthly existences — let alone any particular situation — are only tiny parts of a grand storyline that is far, far bigger than we are.
* Not her real name.
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