Were you a dot-to-dot child? Are you a dot-to-dot adult? I was and am. What is surprising is that I am not usually a very detail-oriented person, but for some reason I like to create images by going from dot to dot/number to number. I also like word searches and "find the image" searches. You might think those activities would drive a creative-global thinking person like me absolutely crazy, but it doesn't. I guess it is an anomaly in my personality.
I am generally comfortable with my dot-to-dot life. I like it! Early on it seemed Divinely purposeful that my path was circuitous. From a young age I trusted that this jigsaw puzzle of a life had purpose. Somehow, I knew that God was always about the business of putting people and opportunities in my path for my greater good and for a service and pattern to my life. Yes....I have always seemed to know deep within my soul that God, who created me and began a good work in me would be with me through it all. My job has been and is to try to be faithful, listen, and follow. It is so interesting to look back over life after all these years and see the outline--the dots if you will-- of God's Presence and guidance in my being. Can you trace the dots of your life? When I look at my dots, I scratch my head in wonder at God’s handiwork and grace. God knows that God needed to be patient with me. What a journey! From precocious child to a youth willing to set the world on fire, to international exchange student to journalist to wife to missionary to mom to educator to minister to world traveler to grandparent to rancher to retired writer? Go figure. How on earth have all those dots been connected?
I confess that sometimes I wanted to say, "Really God? You want me to do what? You want me to move where? You want me to deal with that?" But I don't believe that God has orchestrated every movement and decision of my life. God's way seems to me to be more of a holy lure. Instead of saying "do this or do that because it is my absolute will," I see God as more of an invitational God--a co-creator and companion for my life. God is always about the business of possibilities and creative love. While God may provide an opportunity or life-giving moments all around me, it is my choice about what to do with my days. In hindsight, I can see that whatever I have chosen, God's amazing Presence and love pieces it all together. God helps draw the lines of my dot-to-dot life. When I run out of ink or break my crayons, God is there with a full supply of what I need.
Paul said to the Philippians, "I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ”. Philippians 1:6 Am I confident of the One who began and completes a good work in me? Absolutely!!! And for the record, it has been a fun, wild, mysterious, heartbreaking, overwhelming, grief-stricken, joyful, adventurous life so far. I think the good news is that God is not done with me just yet. And if my passing over to whatever is on the other side should come more quickly than I imagine it might, I am very sure there will be an incredible do-to-dot soul place in which to draw. Either way......I am grateful for what has been and excited about what is to come. Thanks be to God.
God's New Plans
When you look back at events in your life and how they have unfolded, you may want to say: “It was part of God’s plan.” This would be to imagine God has having scripted the events in advance, as if life were a play and all the lines and plots had already been written.
I do not fault people for thinking this way. Sometimes it can be very consoling to think that everything happens for a pre-scripted reason.
But Nita Gilger’s essay suggests to me a different image. It suggests that life is a script-in-the-making and that it involves some improvisation, even on God's part.
Let each “dot” refer to a moment or situation in which you find yourself, partly the result of your own volition and partly the result of the agency and influence of others. A dot can last a moment or a year or a decade. Consider both the pleasant and the unpleasant dots, the happy and the sad. The births and blessings, yes, but also the failings and tragedies. Remember to include within the dots of your life the sins, so as not to pretend that all is pretty.
And consider that these circumstances are not yours alone, but also influence other people’s lives, too. No dot is an island. We live in a universe with an incalculable number of dots, each unique and all intersecting, and with new dots being created all the time. The universe is, says Whitehead, a creative advance into novelty. Your reading these lines at this moment is a kind of dot, and this dot did not exist prior to your reading the lines.
It is possible to imagine that each dot as known in advance and even planned in advance by God and to speak of this as divine providence. But Nita’s idea is different. I'll call it dot-to-dot providence.
It is that God helps us with the dot-to-dot unfoldings of the world, not by preordaining each dot, but by beckoning us into a next dot, relative to the dot at hand. God acts persuasively not coercively, through lures not manipulations, through what process theologians call “initial aims.” And the future is not-yet-determined, not even for God.
This is a kind of providence, too, but different from that of pre-ordination. It is the providence of love and faithfulness. It is the promise, on God’s part, that no matter what situations we find ourselves in, God will be with us, offering some ray of hope, some way of responding and taking a next step in life.
God does not and cannot control it all. We, too, with our decisions, are part of what makes things happen as they do. Dot-to-dot providence is co-creative.
We can then look back at our lives, not by saying that everything happened according to a plan, but rather that God was with us no matter what, as a companion to our joys and sufferings; that God was sustaining us all the while with love; and that God was sometimes creating new plans, relative to the circumstances at hand, for our benefit and the benefit of others. Happily, sometimes, we responded and the will of God was done "on earth as it is in heaven." The play of life is a script-in-the-making, and we are both characters and writers.
The good news is that God, the cosmic author, is writing the play, too, and not at all "done with us yet." This would be true in life after death as in life. As Nita says: "And if my passing over to whatever is on the other side should come more quickly than I imagine it might, I am very sure there will be an incredible do-to-dot soul place in which to draw."