We Prophesy Grief, Not Grace

If this pandemic has taught us anything, surely it’s taught us that we are lousy prognosticators. The best of our politicians, the best of our scientists, the best of our statisticians, could not, between them, do much of anything to predict how far the virus would spread, how quickly it would move, how many lives it would claim. The greatest optimists and greatest pessimists alike were often shown to be wrong not just by small degrees, but by whole orders of magnitude. They looked at the present, they made their predictions of the future, and they got it so very wrong.

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Many have taken the opportunity to disparage such experts for being so wide of the mark, but a moment’s reflection ought to show that we are all prone to make poor predictions about the future. A little humility ought to show that our rate of success is every bit as bad, that our prophecies are just as often proven false. Yet our past failures rarely stop us from future attempts.

I wonder if you have ever pondered the reality that much of our worry, much of our fear, much of our anxiety, comes from predicting the future. The ability to gaze forward in time is an essentially human trait. We have the ability to use our imaginations to see and to feel the future—to imagine that victory and feel the thrill of it, to visualize that loss and feel the sorrow of it. Our imaginations engage our emotions so we begin to weep or to rejoice over what has not yet come to pass and what may never come to pass. This is a feature of our humanity, not a bug, I’m sure, for it guides us toward what is desirable and guides us away from what would cause us pain.

But I wonder if you have ever pondered the associated reality that, as we gaze into the future, as we imagine what may be, we are far better at projecting grief than grace. The future we imagine, and the future we begin to feel, is far more often bleak than lush, far more often painful than promising. The fantasies we conjure are of harm, not help, of sorrow, not support. Ed Welch says it well: “Worriers are visionaries minus the optimism.”

I am not particularly prone to worry, but when I do, I tend to worry about my children. They are, after all, my foremost God-given responsibility and they are, after all, what in all the world is most precious to me. Some recent ruminating on the matter has shown me my tendency to imagine a future in which I know only loss, only pain, only sorrow. I’ve been that visionary worrywart who sees a future of evil, not good, of sorrow so deep it displaces all joy. It has taken the loss of one of my children to help me understand the degree to which my imagination has been faulty, to understand that it only ever projected a very small and very inaccurate part of the reality.

Losing a child is more painful than I ever could have imagined, but God’s grace in it has been more constant than I ever could have imagined. The loss has been more grievous but the joy has been more present than in any fantasy I could ever have conjured. I never would have foreseen the ways in which God’s promises have been proven true, the ways in which he has comforted us by his Spirit and his people, the ways in which we have been upheld by prayer, in which we’ve been encouraged by words of truth and acts of love. I had eyes to see some of the pain, but little of the joy, to see much of the grief but so little of the grace. My imagination was faulty in what it foresaw and faulty in what it failed to foresee.

There is no sense in which I’m ready to say that the grace we have experienced balances out the grief, in which I am ready to say, “I would not change the situation even if I could.” I suppose that day may come. For now my confidence is in the goodness and sovereignty of God, my trust is that his plan is perfect, even when it doesn’t feel like it. And, when worries return, when I feel fear for my girls, when my mind clouds and my pulse quickens, instead of looking forward to project grief I look back to remember grace, instead of looking inward I look upward, instead of dwelling on projections I dwell on providence. For worry, I know, is as senseless as predictions.