Making sense of your life is like playing one of those connect-the-dots games.
You know the kind I’m talking about. On a sheet in front of you (sometimes in a child’s activity book) you see what looks like a meaningless jumble of numbered points.
By connecting the dots with a pencil in the correct sequence a picture slowly emerges: a clown, a car or some other familiar object.
The picture is in there, but you have to connect the dots to see it.
At one point or another we all want to connect the dots of our life.
We want life to make sense. And so we look back on how our life has unfolded up to this point and we connect the dots, usually by telling the story of our own lives.
We might tell it to our family. We might share it with a friend.
Or… you do what I have done for the past nine years.
You share it with everyone. The good, the bad and ugly.
I have continually written about things that happened in my life and symbolically placed dots down and anyone who reads what I have written over that period of time can connect the dots and see from where I came and how I got to where I am today.
Sometimes it isn’t pretty.
We connect the dots of our story with a sense of direction, an ending that explains everything that has happened by connecting the dots as the road that leads to here and now.
There’s just one problem. We can only connect the dots by looking backward. We live life forward. You cannot connect the dots in the future.
To do anything at all, to take the next step in life, we have to believe that all the dots we’re about to write will somehow be connected. You have to trust in something, and in someone to connect those dots.
Some people trust in their own ingenuity or intelligence. Others believe in karma or destiny or fate or luck.
None of these approaches to the future is properly called hope.
Hope is our trust in God’s promise to connect the dots of our lives through his Son Jesus Christ.
Some people seem to be always on be on track. They seem certain of exactly where they are going and never appear to give it a second thought. They have never been seriously off track and cannot imagine that the train they’re on could be derailed or be leading to some unexpected destination.
Their track leads straight to the picture of their desired destination, or at least that’s what they believe. They are counting on “dots” of the future that have not been set yet.
They have not had an off track experience yet.
They have not had to ask: Where am I? How did I get here? Where do I go from here?
I have had such experiences. I have had off track experiences that literally have defined where I am at today. Had I not allowed God to teach me and learn what I needed to learn from difficult events in my life, my life would be a mess. The dots that I laid down would not tell a story of redemption. The view would just be jumbled dots with no definable picture of grace and forgiveness.
Life can be like that. There are lots of unexpected destinations (dots) in life: divorce, career setbacks, sickness, an unwelcome diagnosis. Some self-inflicted, some not.
The road ahead is unfamiliar. It’s not just that you have to figure out how to get to your initial destination. You’re not sure that there is a destination or what it will look like. It’s hard to say what makes for a step forward and what makes for a step back.
To return to our initial connect-the dots illustration, you can’t connect the dots yourself. That’s when you need hope to move at all. A trust that what you do next will be part of a movement forward.
Steve Jobs once spoke about the importance of connecting the dots.
This is what he said:
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
There’s just one problem. Steve Jobs, by all accounts, was not a man of faith. He was dogged in what you could call wishful thinking. And in fact, he did not really believe in an afterlife or any deity who was working on his behalf.
All that mattered for him was the strength of our belief in “whatever.” He was saying we should just go for it with all we have, because this life is all that we’ve got. Act as if what we’re about to do will work out.
Some of us may be able to motivate ourselves with what we know is nothing more than a lovely fiction: with wishful thinking. But none of us are Steve Jobs.
For that matter, we Christians insist that it is not the strength of our capacity to hope that matters. On the contrary, we recognize that it is the strength of what we place our hopes upon that really matters.
For example, if I am dangling from a rope at the edge of the cliff, I can be the strongest man in the world and will still fall if the rope is too flimsy to hold my weight.
God teaches us to move forward trusting in Him. He can bear our weight. He will connect the dots.
We may not always see exactly where we are headed or why this or that turn in the road will really take us somewhere we want to be.
Go forward anyway. Trust God.
We need to remember that all of these dots that we have placed in our past are able to be used to create a beautiful picture of the grace of God.
God can use all of these things we do to bring honor and glory to Him.
We just need to trust Him to connect the dots.