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Unintended Outcomes

January 30, 2019

I got some money for Christmas this year and decided to spend some of it on a smart watch I’ve been wanting for a long time, but never had the discretionary cash to buy.  I recruited an Ebay-savvy friend to help me find a bargain (OK, actually I asked him to find it and send me the link), which he did.  Great bargain for a really sharp watch.  So I ordered it and paid for it and waited for it to be delivered by Fed-Ex.

One pretty cool thing about buying something online is that you get notification when the item is being shipped and when they think it will be delivered.  I was out of town when my notification came, so when we got back, I was eager to check the front porch to see if it had arrived.  Sure enough, there it was, with a light dusting of snow on it, but otherwise in ship shape, waiting for me on the porch.  Merry Christmas to me!

But there was a second identical box there, too.  Curious.  I brought them both in and opened them.  Turns out their contents were identical.  I got two brand-spankin new smart watches.  Neither of the boxes had packing slips enclosed, and the return address on both was for a shipping center, not the seller.  That meant, it would be a little more difficult to figure out what to do with the extra watch.

I opened the case for one watch and, to my joy, it was exactly what I had thought it would be when I ordered it (something that doesn’t always happen for me).  At this point I was feeling like the dad in the Christmas Story movie as he opened the box with his fabulous lady-leg lamp.  All that was missing was the music in the background and a “Fragile” label.  Fra-gee-lay.

This Merry Christmas moment happened on Saturday afternoon, so  I decided I’d pursue what the deal was with the second smart watch on Monday.  Which I did.  I called Customer Service and spoke with Ulysses, who had a very thick Indian accent, but who did his best to satisfy my request to figure out what was up with getting two watches.

I told him the tale of two watches, and that I wondered if he could advise me as to what to do with the extra.  He said, “This is your lucky day.”  It turns out the extra watch is mine to do with what I wish.  Really?  Yep.

This is a very different unexpected outcome than I’m used to.  Normally it seems like I’m the guy who would get charged for two watches and get only one delivered.  Or have my order evaporate in cyberspace, or somehow it would be lost in the vast wasteland of the postal service.

Normally, unexpected outcomes are less positive and have a less happy ending.  For me, anyway.  I think this would be true for most people, not just us Eeyore-types.  I blame Adam and Eve for this.  If they had not eaten the fruit in the Garden, unexpected outcomes would all be happy and positive.  Well, except if they hadn’t eaten the fruit, I probably would have.  So there’s that.

I see lots of unexpected outcomes in families I’ve worked with.  Unfortunately, most of them are not happy and positive.  Rebellion, anger, bitterness, even hatred.  Teenage mommies and daddies.  Addicts and alcoholics.  Dysfunctional marriages and horribly broken families cascading down to the 3rd and 4th generation.  Heartbreaking stories that almost always include somebody saying, “I just never thought this would happen.”

There’s a principle from the Bible that applies to unexpected outcomes.  It comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. (Galatians 6:7 NIV)

To quote Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid, “What goes around comes around.”

Unless God steps in to intervene, the scientific theorem that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction is still the basic dance of life and relationships.  You reap what you sow.  Even if you didn’t have the particular harvest in mind when you sowed, you’re getting a harvest.  Even if you had no idea you were sowing for the harvest you’re getting right now.  Sorry, but this is life.

Take a look back over your life and see if you can spot a recent unexpected outcome, positive or negative.  I’m pretty sure you’ll see one there in the rear-view mirror.

If the consequence was positive it’s easy to figure out what to do.  You move forward with thanksgiving in your heart and a smile on your face.  But if the outcome was negative, what are you supposed to do?

I can tell you one thing NOT to do.  Don’t beat yourself up about it.  The negative consequence is already doing that.  There’s no need to dog-pile more on yourself.  Don’t cut a willow branch and wail away on your own back side.  It won’t do any good.  All it will do is burn up energy and emotion that you won’t be able to draw from to rebound from the consequence, and it will reinforce a negative view of yourself, which will set you up to be more likely to make more bad choices.  Once the pain of the negative consequence gets your attention, it’s done its job.  So don’t beat yourself up about it.

Instead of getting stuck in a punish-palooza, decide to choose what you’ll do about what this unexpected outcome has brought into your life.  Decide to make choices that will pull you out instead of driving you farther into the chaos and sadness of what’s happening to you.

Gee, Steve!  Thanks!  This makes all the difference!  This is so simple!

I know.  It wasn’t hard for me to type those words about making different choices.  It’s VERY hard to actually do this, though.  Incredibly hard.  Like can-anybody-really-do-this hard.

So let’s pull it down here to street-level where maybe we can get our hands on it.  Start with a question.  But probably not the question most of us ask when we get an unexpected negative outcome.  Most people’s first question (mine, anyway) is, “Who did this to me?!”  It’s more of a demand than a question, really.  It’s a natural question, but the wrong one.  Nonetheless, the victim in me always asks it.

The better question (because, let’s face it, once we get back in our right mind, the answer to the who-did-this-to-me question is “me…”) is, “What will I do about this?”

You know the old adage, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you choose to do about what happens to you.”  It’s true, even if you can’t prove the math.  The choices you make to deal with the events in your life are possibly the most important choices you make.

Don’t mistake this question for, “What will fix this?”  You may not be able to fix it.  Not right now, anyway.  The better question at this point is, “What’s the best thing I can do with this right now?  What’s my next step?”  The first part of the answer to that is, “Don’t make it worse.”  Usually over-reacting will make it worse.

Jesus’ little brother, Jimmy, has good advice on this.  It’s in James 1:5.  “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

Step One in this process of deciding what’s the best next step is ASK GOD FOR WISDOM.  Do what James suggests.

It’s a good idea to seek the counsel of other wise individuals, too.  But there are times when you’re not going to be able to connect with other wise individuals.  That’s when asking God for wisdom isn’t just your only option.  It’s your best option.  Always.  Take a few deep breaths to get your heart rate and blood pressure down a little, and ask God for His wisdom.

Then, put one foot in front of the other, and do what’s next.  A moving vessel is easier to steer than a vessel at rest.  In partnership with the God Who is nuts about you even when you make nutty choices and get lousy consequences, just keep moving.


From → Marriage

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