The Life That Is Waiting
The English novelist E.M. Forster said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey tells Mary Hatch (his future wife) that he has his whole life planned. He knows what he’s going to do in a year, in five years, and as far down his life’s pathway as he can see. His future is set in stone—only it isn’t. The main theme of the film is George Bailey coming to grips with the fact that nothing he has planned for himself happens. He never leaves the small town in which he was born. Not until the end of the film, with the intervention of a rather unusual guardian angel, does he see how successful his life has been—not the life he planned, but the one that was waiting for him.
George Bailey fights desperately to live his life-plan until he realized its impossibility. Events conspire to undermine his dreams and ruin his chance at what he sees as success. Another character, the miserable old wretch, Mr. Potter, accuses George of being a miserable young wretch—and it’s true. George wants so desperately to shake the dust of Bedford Falls from his feet and accomplish great things that he can’t settle for the life to which he is called. It takes an act of God for him to see that the life he has built while he was looking elsewhere is far more successful than even his wildest plans and dreams.
Contrast George Bailey with the first disciples Jesus called. Simon Peter and his brother Andrew were mending their fishing nets. They had been out all night fishing, and, as usual, there were holes in the nets where they had snagged on rocks and other obstacles. I can’t imagine this task was much fun, but it was part of the job. Otherwise the holes would grow larger and fish would be lost.
Jesus walked by and said, “Follow me.” Matthew tells us they immediately left their nets and followed Jesus. No stopping to think about the life they had planned for themselves, or for family obligations. Jesus called and they went.
Jesus wasn’t through. A little farther along the shore he saw two more brothers, James and John. He issued the same call to them. Like their fellow fishermen they immediately left their nets and joined the group.
What makes this story so remarkable is the culture in which it is set. This was a time and place when tradition and society expected a man to follow the profession of his father. The sons of carpenters became carpenters. The sons of priests became priests. The sons of fishermen became fishermen. Sons were supposed to stay close to home, as it was their responsibility to care for their parents when the time came that the older generation could no longer work. In spite of the demands of society, when Jesus called they followed him into the life that was waiting for them.
Charles Dubois predated Forster with a similar thought. He said, “The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.” John the Baptist responded to this call, as did Jesus—as did Peter and Andrew, James and John. Years later, Saul heard the same call, and even changed his name to pursue the life that was waiting for him.
The same call sounds for us today. God is calling us to leave behind our elaborate plans, all that we think will make us successful, and lead the life that is waiting for us.
How will we answer?
How quickly will we follow?