“There are two dates on a tombstone; the date the deceased was born and the date he or she died, and in between those dates is a dash. That dash is a summation of a life”. I recently stumbled on those words from a sage preacher who died several years ago, and they have been churning through my mind. He was speaking in the wake of his friend’s death on the inevitability of change. Some people like change, some tolerate it, and others hate it. Irrespective of how we feel about it, change is a fact of life, baked into the human experience. It’s one thing you can count on in the dash. No time-bound creature or plant can escape it. Sometimes the changes we experience will be within our control, and at other times, outside our control. But in every case, change demands a response from us.
Most of us accept that nothing ever stays the same. But wouldn’t it be great if every change in your life happened when you were ready? Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. Many of us have seen people who refuse to accept change. Whether it’s being incapable of doing something they could once do or a change in circumstances, it can be unpleasant to watch. Solomon eloquently wrote that there’s a season for everything under the sun [Ecclesiastes 3:1]. But often, we struggle to recognise or accept a change of seasons. There was a time I was a bachelor and had control of my calendar. Nowadays, my responsibilities as a father and husband dictate my schedule. Free time is elusive, I’m more tired than ever, and I barely have a social life. Some days are more challenging than others, but I’m learning to embrace life as it is rather than as I’d want it to be.
If we can’t stop change or control it when it eventually happens, our response is all we have left. Whether you hate, love or tolerate change, you still have to do something about it. For instance, irrespective of how we feel about winter – I barely tolerate it, it comes every year, and we must adjust to it. If I don’t change the heating at home and what I wear, there’ll be consequences. I think unexpected changes are worse. Often, we’ve little or no time to prepare or consider our response. These are the vagaries of life we all face, irrespective of class, status, race, etc. Recently, I’ve been pondering how I handle change, and it’s been very instructive. It’s an exercise I highly recommend.
Like many, I feel a sense of control over some of the changes I faced. Sometimes, I can influence the outcome, even when I don’t have direct control. I like to plan too. So, I usually prepare for the worst because I gain a sense of comfort if I believe I can handle the worst-case scenario. However, I can become anxious and restless when I’m less confident about coping with a bad outcome. I occasionally witness people ignore daunting changes around them and bury their heads in the sand. But I wrestle with that approach because I’m often keenly aware of the consequences of ignoring change. However, whenever I struggle with my anxieties, my decisions are influenced by my fears of the worst-case scenario. Time and again, I’ve observed fear pierce through my coping mechanism and leave me a nervous wreck.
My experience might be familiar to many, but there are people who appear so well-resourced and prepared that they seem impervious to change. Their security often emanates from the machinations they have to cope with change. It could be power, wealth, connections, fame, etc. In worldly terms, you can see why they’re confident and even hubristic when others are worried. Yet, there’s a stinging rebuke from Scripture to such people because their trust is in their plans, not God [Jeremiah 17:5-6, James 4:6]. There might be a temptation for some of us to envy or seek to emulate such people because we lack what they have. But God calls us to put our trust in Him for the unexpected seasons and even the ones we’ve anticipated [Psalm 20:7, Jeremiah 17:7-8].
God’s children can learn much from Joseph [Genesis 37-50] – a man whose life catalogues anticipated and unexpected seasons. He modelled how to trust God when events outside our control occur. Whether as a slave, prisoner or prime minister, Joseph’s responses as he encountered challenging circumstances showcased integrity and character. Even when he couldn’t explain his unfair predicaments, he trusted God was at work. Such faith enabled him to say to his persecutors as he forgave them: “What you intended for evil, God used for good” [Genesis 50:20].
We may be uncertain of what tomorrow holds, but we know two things: First, life won’t stay the same – change is inevitable. Second, some of those changes, whether anticipated or unexpected, will be beyond our control. That’s a sobering thought that can lead to trepidation and cause us to strive futilely to control our futures or leave us anxiously wondering what’s next. Neither disposition leads to peace of mind. But peace is possible in uncertainty if your anchor is the One who’s sovereign over our affairs [Philippians 4:6-7].
Joseph’s story is testimony that God is indeed Emmanuel [Matthew 1:23]. He’s with us in the valley and on the mountaintop. He knew about every season we’d ever experienced before the beginning of time, and He also knows how to guide, direct and empower us to flourish in every one of them. You don’t need to worry about what’s coming if you know the God who controls the future loves you and is rooting for you. He offers us His peace in exchange for all our worries and anxieties. If we accept His offer, He’ll make our dashes object lessons for others [John 14:27].