I’ve been writing the same novel for about five years. At the rate I’m going, it may take me five more to publish it. I have begun it, trashed it, and begun it again so many times. I’m becoming an expert at beginning a story again.
I used to worry my novel would be terrible and no one would read it. Now, I don’t care if the book is garbage. I just want to know how the story ends.
Sometimes, I feel the same way about my own life. My prayers often sound a lot like this: God, how will this plot you’ve thrown me into resolve itself?
Usually, the resolution involves beginning again in some way; to find the next chapter, I must either remember how the story began or toss my rough draft attempt and try to find the plot in a new way.
Jesus pretty much told a whole crowd to begin again in Matthew 26, after he was betrayed:
“Have you come out with swords and clubs, as if I were a criminal, to capture me? Every day I used to sit, teaching in the temple, and you didn’t arrest me. But all this happened so that the writings of the prophets would be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and ran away.” (Matt 26:55 CSB)
All this happened so that the writings of the prophets would be fulfilled. This was Jesus’s attempt to remind them that God had been writing the plot toward this moment of betrayal all along.
All the disciples deserted him. This was when they tossed their rough draft attempt to understand God’s plan.
The most challenging part about beginning again is we almost always must relinquish the right to tell God his plan isn’t the one we would have chosen.
God’s plan probably seemed far too painful from the disciples’ perspective. After all, he put himself at the center of their lives, let them taste the great hope of freedom and liberation, caused them to fall head over heels in love with him, and then snatched himself away from them when they were hooked. This story begs the question:
How do we start over when God’s led us through unjust, painful circumstances?
After all the disciples ran away and deserted Jesus, the first to return to him were the women obligated by their culture and their love for him to tend his body.
Duty and love are a powerful combination.
Duty and love gave Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome the first glimpse of God’s redemptive story arc. Duty and love gave them ears to hear the good news and the courage to offer that news to others.
Those three women were the first believers to dream of a future beyond their loss and grief.
Duty and love dare us to dream again and imagine what God has next for all of us. Duty asks us to show up in uncomfortable ways and prioritize God’s truth and grace. Love banishes our fear and doubt as it reassures us that all shall be well in the end.
This is what people of faith do: We turn the page and let God write the next chapter. We finish the things we set aside in 2020, last year, when we moved to that new city, or when our old hopes and dreams failed to work out as we expected.
Our duty to love God and others as we love ourselves will take us places we never expected to go. All God’s done in the past will carry us into the miracle God has planned for us.
Here’s to you, me, and everyone else hearing the best news we ever heard: God’s best plans are waiting for us, a few paragraphs or pages up ahead.