DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What’s Next?

Written by: on October 15, 2020

Earlier this afternoon (Thursday,) I officiated a memorial service for a member of my congregation. Julie was not quite 50 years old when she died last week after a prolonged battle with cancer. And while we knew her death was coming, it has been a difficult week as I have been forced to open the vault of memories.

Julie and I first met as middle schoolers when my family moved to a new town and church. As teenagers, we participated in many of the same student activities at the church. Julie was always confident, independent, and talented. I confess I was a bit intimidated by her. She was definitely way out of my league. I think she might have even told me so once. But she was always gracious and considerate.

I was appointed back to this same congregation many years later to serve as the Senior Pastor. One Sunday, I looked at the choir and saw Julie’s familiar face. Maybe she had more curves and a few more gray hairs than before, like many of us from that era, but the unmistakable kindness in her eyes gave her away. I looked forward to getting reacquainted and to learning what she had been up to all these years.

However, shortly after our initial reunion, Julie received a devastating cancer diagnosis. And her life was immediately consumed with tests and procedures and treatments and medications. I would check in on her from time to time. The last time we spoke was just a week or so before her death. I asked if she had any fears. She said, “Sure, I’m scared about what will happen. I’m scared about what’s next.”

We had a nice talk about faith and the assurance of God, especially as we reach the end of this life. We laughed, cried, and prayed together. I told her we would miss her, but that we would be ok and she need not worry about the family and friends she loved. I reminded her that she would be ok too, and she replied, “Yes I know. I just wanted to be sure.”

In “Not Knowing,” D’Sousa and Renner shift from the false assurance of knowing to the opportunities created in not knowing by outlining four key themes: empty your cup, close your eyes to see, leap in the dark, and delight in the unknown. They were not writing from a religious perspective, but these ideas run parallel to the life of faith. We are most able to receive when our hands are open, not closed. We often hear God speak more clearly when we cultivate our inner world. The very definition of faith is stepping out into places where we cannot know the outcome. And there is an indescribable joy that comes from encounters with the unexpected. This is the path to transformation. But it is not an easy road.

We might prefer to navigate through this life with some level of certainty about things- how things work, what we might expect to happen, how thoughts ought to be. But the reality is that life comes with no promises. We are not promised any days or any breaths. Nor are we promised good health, well-adjusted kids, secure financial portfolios, or freedom from hardship. And there can be a great amount of fear that comes in not knowing, anxiety in facing the reality that life comes with a considerable amount of uncertainty.

But there is also joy in the adventure. There is a new freedom in exploring what comes next, in stepping out in faith and trusting God with the outcome. And underneath it all, despite her fears of the unknown, this is path Julie walked. She did not live as though God owed her anything. She lived simply in the things God does promise:

“I will not leave you or forsake you.”
“I have prepared a place for you.”
“I am always with you.”

In this world of quick fixes and soundbite answers, this is the only certainty that matters. The certainty of God’s presence, God’s strength, God’s comfort, God’s grace unlocks doors we shut for security’s sake and sends us out to the next adventure. It loosens us from the lifelines that may prolong an existence, but do not make a life. It invites us to ask perhaps the most hopeful question of all- “Okay, what’s next?”

 

Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza, “Not Knowing: The Art Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity,” (New York: LID Publishing, 2016.)

About the Author

mm

John McLarty

Husband. Dad. Pastor. Play a little golf.

6 responses to “What’s Next?”

  1. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    What a potent question! The “okay” seems to accept the present – here I am, this is now, I am here. “What’s next?” seeks a guide, implies the asker doesn’t know, assumes a future, takes the posture of a subordinate, and hints at obeying the answer. It reminds me of the few Kings in the OT that actually inquire of the Lord, and convicts me of the same lack of inquiry. Thanks for spurring me on.

  2. mm John McLarty says:

    Your comment was a better summary than what I had written! Thanks for reflecting that so clearly.

  3. mm Greg Reich says:

    John,

    Profound blog! What’s next? I find myself as days go by defaulting to the comment “It is what it is!” For me its a statement of realizing I don’t know and I don’t have a clue of how to proceed. Life in so many ways with the complications of COVID, the political environment, the anger, and the over abundance of less than helpful commentary is unpredictable. “It is what it is!” for me is a comment of faith, it is a comment of helplessness, an acknowledgment of my need for God to step up and step in. I find comfort during this time in the first part of verse 9 in 2 Chronicles 16; “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His..” My prayer is for all who are asking, What’s next, to know God sees them and they can sense His strong support!

  4. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Thanks John, I appreciate your being there and so present with your friend. Condolences to you, brother. Thank you for sharing.

    Certainty is a tough one. And, we lean into this with Christ; the idea of certainty ‘by faith’. Truly, the only certainty that matters, this encouragement from the Heart of Heaven.

    This craving for certainty, so human yet, can leave us undone when it’s elusive. There’s purpose in the ‘unanswered question’, to trust. To fall back into the arms of grace when the challenge of the moment could be, ‘will He be here to catch me?’

    Sometimes, I want to run. Honestly, I just want to ‘get on the get-go’ for the ‘unanswered question’. Then, I remember Job.

    Wow, the trust eh!

    God bless you, John 🙂 hope it’s a sweet Sunday for you and the community you walk with.

  5. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Through your steadfast, not willing to fix-it or diminish the reality, you honored Julie’s humanity and gave her permission to wonder and be. You assured her of what you do know and what you don’t know and then you sat, listened, and cried. You two were on holy ground, my friend.

    I do find it fascinating that these leading business books hold many, often forgotten truths of our faith. In Not Doing, 5.5. (189) they note, “Just being there seems so minimal, so small a gesture, that we underestimate its power, at the right time, to change others. Its like a cup made of clay. It forms a space to contain the anxieties of the situation, to hold others steady when the current of the river threatens to overwhelm and overpower.” Just as you have done that for Julie, may the same be done for you and her community as you all grieve her death into life.

  6. mm Dylan Branson says:

    “What’s next?” seems to be on everyone’s mind. In the temporal, we try to have something lined up to take over once we finish our current task. Existentially, we wonder what comes in the next life – and in the present as well. Politically, we keep asking “what’s next?” here in Hong Kong (and the US), a question that’s been on everyone’s lips for the past year and made even more potent in the last few months. With COVID, the question is split – “what’s next?” vs “when do we go back?” This journey of learning to not know and be comfortable with the tension is a difficult one, though maybe the best thing to do is simply “not do” as well.

Leave a Reply