Building a house of cards

July 13, 2007 | 4 comments

For whatever reason, I keep stumbling across blogs by mothers who are battling cancer lately. One of the things that’s most striking about every one of them is how much looking through their posts highlights how fragile life is, and how little control we really have over our destinies. The post at the bottom of the page, from last Wednesday, might be titled something like “Feeling great!” and recount high hopes and improving health. And then the latest post, from today, might be titled “Bad news” and tell of dire test results and the choking realization that the author will probably not live to see her children grow up.

Just now I was doing my usual blog reading during the kids’ naptime, and I came across yet another blogger who just received a grave cancer diagnosis. She’s a mother, she’s not even 30 yet, and there’s a good chance that she doesn’t have a lot more time.

Oddly, I was able to keep a stiff upper lip through most of the post, until she got to the part about all the plans she had: how she had her life neatly in place, her plans for the next few years all settled, and this diagnosis completely derailed everything. Nothing seems within her control any longer, and that’s one of the things she’s struggling with the most.

It hit me so hard to read that because I’m so much like that. Especially coming from a background of atheism, where there’s no higher power to guide decisions, it is my habit to take comfort in planning and control. I have multiple documents sitting here on my computer that detail my goals for the next six months, year, five years, etc. What I am going to accomplish over the next decade is all scheduled out (until recently, that even included the number of children I would have and when I would have them).

Yet all my life there has been the looming “What if?” Only when I took a moment to think about the possibility of a serious health issue, disability, death of a loved one, etc. did I realize just how much my comfort and happiness were derived from the predictability of my daily life and sense of control over my future.

This is something I’ve been working on a lot as I try to grow in my newfound faith: to not let the luxury that envelopes my middle-class American lifestyle blind me to the fact that my life is not mine to control; that my fortunes could change 180 degrees at any moment; that building my life around my own surface-level satisfaction and comfort is like building a house of cards.

I often remind myself of yet another bit of wisdom I got from Fr. Walter Ciszek’s book He Leadeth Me:

How easy it is, in times of ease, for us to become dependent on our routines, on the established order of our day-to-day existence, to carry us along. We begin to take things for granted, to rely on ourselves and our own resources, to “settle in” to this world and to look to it for support. We all too easily come to equate being comfortable with a sense of well-being.

Friends and possessions surround us, one day is followed by the next, good health and happiness for the most part are ours. We don’t have to desire much of the things of the world — to be enamored of riches, for example or greedy or avaricious — in order to have gained this sense of comfort and of well-being, to trust in them as our support…It is the status quo that we rely on, that carries us from day to day, and somehow we begin to lose sight of the fact that under all these things and behind all these things it is God who supports and sustains us. […]

Then it is, perhaps, that God must allow our whole world to be turned upside down in order to remind us it is not our permanent abode or final destiny.

Taking things for granted and relying on yourself and your own resources: if I were to write an autobiography at this point, that would have to be the subtitle (the title perhaps being Seeking God From the Couch, or Who Needs to Trust in God When You Have It All Figured Out Yourself?) When I honestly look at how much I rely on myself and my own resources compared to how much I really rely on God and place my trust in him, it ain’t pretty.

And yet, to be totally honest, I’m afraid to pray about this. I actually have not prayed that God help me let go of the comforts around me and not depend too much on the predictability of my daily life…because I’m afraid he might actually answer that prayer.

The one thing I have done is to allow daily frustrations to remind me that my purpose in life is not to seek comfort in this world. That maybe the watermelon ground into the white carpet and the abysmal afternoon of simultaneous temper tantrums that ruined my plans for the day are just the smack upside the head I needed to remind me that my plans are always, always more tenuous than they seem.


  1. Melanie B

    I keep stumbling across blog entries about planning. If you haven’t seen Karen Edmisten’s posts here
    and here, you should.

    Ever since I was married in August of 2005, my life has been one rug being pulled out from under me after another. Maybe it even started before that. But definitely since I was married. It is disconcerting, finding all my neat plans going astray, and yet it’s also been strangely comforting too. I have never felt so sure of God’s presence in my life as when I was completely adrift and off the map.

  2. Mahsheed

    Another great reflection. I feel the same way, though I want God to take over my life there are certain things in my life that I don’t want to be changed.

  3. majellamom

    Okay, yet another one of your posts that hubby left up for me (not that I wouldn’t have read them anyway)…it must be his way of responding to the last several months we’ve been having…

    As a former atheist, I too have a great desire to plan everything. I have gotten better, of course, but I still prefer to have some consistency in my life.

    I do okay with the fact that my in-laws have an aversion to planning…I was doing okay with the fact that hubby hasn’t been able to bring home a schedule from work for over 6 months now because they are severely short handed…and then my mom was diagnosed with cancer! My mom is a planner, too (I get it from her) and having cancer/going through chemotherapy has been hard on her, too. I’m praying for a renewal of faith for her…

    Anyhow, I’ve been struggling with this very thing, too…It seems that whatever I am dealing with, you deal with, too…but you have much better spiritual guidance for such situations…I just sit around and complain! 😉

  4. Sarahndipity

    I actually have not prayed that God help me let go of the comforts around me and not depend too much on the predictability of my daily life…because I’m afraid he might actually answer that prayer.

    Yep – me too. In the five years since I’ve graduated from college I’ve had some pretty enormous upheavals, including getting married, buying a house, selling it and buying another house, an unplanned pregnancy, two job losses (including one during aforementioned unplanned pregnancy), etc. All this while trying to learn how to make it on my own in the “real world” for the first time, in a decade full of uncertainty, after an upbringing that I now realize was incredibly sheltered. It’s amazing how much I’ve grown and learned in the past five years, how much I thought I knew that I now realize I had no idea about, how many illusions were shattered. I guess when you’re 22 you think you know everything, and you very quickly realize how little you know. At least that’s what it was like for me. God has definitely done a lot of work on me, and I certainly don’t think he’s done yet.

    Things have stabilized somewhat these past couple years, but I now feel like I’m even more addicted to comfort than I used to be. I guess I don’t take it for granted anymore, but at the same time I’m scared to ask God to take away the predictability of my daily life, because I’m kind of like, “look, Lord, I’ve had enough!!” LOL. 🙂

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