And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today – at the latest, tomorrow – we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.”
You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing.
Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”
James 4:13-15 (The Message)
As a privileged white college kid, I participated in an urban studies program on the south side of Chicago. Facing urban poverty and systemic racism for the first time was unnerving and disorienting; there was so much I couldn’t wrap my mind around because it didn’t fit my lived experience. Each day left me grappling with how to live better on the next one.
“Onward through the fog,” our program director would tell us as we struggled to understand the broken dynamics shaping the community around us. It’s a phrase I’ve lived ever since. In fact, fog has become one of my go-to analogies for understanding the liminal spaces of life—those thresholds in life when there’s not yet a clear answer. It’s a tangible reminder of how dimly we sometimes see, how hard it is to wait for answers, and how little we can do about it but proceed slowly through until clarity appears.
In spite of my best efforts to steer my life, it has been full of unexpected twists and turns. I put such stock in my well-laid plans and carefully plotted goals; but inevitably, I come up against situations which challenge me to move forward without knowing exactly which direction is right or wrong.
How much freedom do I give my growing children?
When do I speak truth in a hard conversation and when do I stay silent?
Do I endure through a less-than-ideal situation or pursue a new direction?
How tight do I hold to a friendship that may need to be released?
James’ words haunt me. I live-and-die by my Google calendar; but in truth, I don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. I don’t know what the Master will ask of me or if the fog will be thick or thin. I don’t know if I’ll be able to see the path ahead for an inch or a mile because—try as I might—I don’t control when the fog sets in. Most of the time, all I can do is put one foot in front of another until I catch a glimpse of the sun to know which direction to go.
While this murky reality makes the pessimist in me wont to despair, the contemplative within whispers to stay the course for some of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve known are the ones that have shone through the haze of a foggy cornfield. Whether the unknown of the future stems from internal or external circumstances, walking with wisdom and faith through the dark requires some special traits:
Adaptability. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change,” observed Charles Darwin. People who adapt to change are also resilient, able to adjust unexpected plans in positive and meaningful ways. They are not afraid of taking risks, but don’t jump in without testing the waters first either.
Courage. Living requires determination to push through the tension of the unknown or misunderstood until we come out on a clearer side. Courage reminds us that it’s ok if our life looks different from those around us, as long as we’re following the path God has guided us to.
Joy. Cultivating lightness in the midst of heavy moments allows us to see the individual moments even when the big ones feel overwhelming. Sometimes this looks like simply being light-hearted and giggling at silly things. Other times, it means pausing to acknowledge gratefulness in the small moments.
Vulnerability. Every time I see a lone tree in a field, the poet in me wonders if it is lonely or strong. I have still not decided, but I do know one thing: its unique beauty stems from its uninhibited exposure. In appropriate times and places, sharing unguarded feelings about our experience in the dark brings healing and wholeness.
Willingness. Otherwise known as the dirty-little-word ‘submission’, willingness means we hold the people we love, choices we make, and circumstances we find ourselves in with open hands. It means we make space for the questions we need to ask and allow ourselves to wrestle with the answers that may or may not come, patiently waiting instead of controlling outcomes. It means that our steady prayer begins with an attitude of Lord, I offer myself to thee, to build with me and do with me as thou wilt*.
While it’s tempting to fall into despair over foggy days, their uncertainty develops a strength within that doesn’t grow on sunny days. If the pristine weather of southern California has taught me one thing, it’s that a cloudy day is a refreshing and cozy break from the blue skies. On grey days here, people don scarves and blankets and hoodies, snuggling into a cozier and slower pace. The sunshine is good for us, yes, but the fog holds gifts that we can learn to love as well. It reminds us that we see dimly now, only in part, and that our call is to just keeping walking—onward, through the fog.
*Alcoholics Anonymous 3rd Step Prayer