Finding Our Bearings
Are you sure you should be reading this book? I mean, right here, right this moment?
Now, to be honest, I’m fairly confident your best answer to that question is yes—maybe even “Yes, absolutely! ” I asked because, you see, this book explores something that involves getting your timing right for all you do and where you do it. It’s about being free to really enjoy what you’re doing and where you’re doing it—and to make the most of every experience.
Let me picture it for you.
How Did I Get Here?
My son Daniel has given our family numerous reasons to chuckle. Often he makes us laugh so hard our sides hurt. He’s that kind of guy.
For instance, there was that time in Hawaii. I’d been the president of a graduate school in Canada for ten years when the board of trustees surprised me. Wanting to thank me for the school’s progress, they voted to send my wife and me to Hawaii. Living in Alberta, we faced January temperatures plunging to minus-forty degrees, so we enthusiastically accepted the board’s generous expression of appreciation.
My three teenage children soon approached me with a grave concern. They feared we couldn’t possibly enjoy ourselves all alone in the tropics, knowing that they were shivering back home in the Arctic air, parentless.
The next thing I knew, they were coming too, and our all-expensespaid, romantic getaway became an exorbitant family odyssey.
The day we flew out of Calgary, the mercury was sitting at minus twenty-eight. Long hours later upon landing in Lihue, Kauai, we were greeted by temperatures in the seventies. We rented a car and drove to our lodging. In under a minute our pale-skinned, sun-starved offspring dashed into our beachfront town house and emerged in their swimming attire, ready for action. With nary a comment such as “Dad, is there anything we can do to help?” they sprinted to the beach.
Jet-lagged and famished, I found the nearest grocery store and stocked up on essential food supplies, including copious amounts of snacks for my freeloading teens. Lisa began nesting—sorting the bedding and assigning rooms.
Finally my wife and I trudged wearily to the beach. Daniel greeted us cheerfully. “Did you get any good food? I’m starving!” I hastily assured him I had no intention of making him lunch but that the patio door to our town house was unlocked and there was now a plethora of overpriced groceries awaiting him.
He meandered back to the town house and discovered, much to his delight, a bountiful supply of all his favorite junk food—Double Stuf Oreo cookies, nacho chips, and plenty more. He voraciously ripped open a bag of cookies and popped the tab on a can of Coke. Flopping happily onto the couch in his soaking-wet swimsuit, my son parked his sand-covered feet on the coffee table. Spewing all manner of crumbs and debris as he inhaled his snacks, he flipped on the television and… Could it be? ESPN? A hockey game? Life did not get any better! He sighed in contentment and surveyed his surroundings. To his right he could see ocean waves lazily rolling in. In his lap lay the food of the gods. Before him a large-screen TV featured his most beloved sport. And emerging to his left—a scowling stranger clad in only a towel. It was at that precise moment Daniel realized he was in the wrong town house!
“How did I get here?” our embarrassed son wondered on that lazy, tropical day. He’d been minding his own business, enjoying what life placed before him, and simply trying to satisfy his appetite.
Now, in and of itself, that particular town house was by no means an inappropriate environment for Daniel. And it’s easy to imagine a situation in which nothing at all would be wrong about his being there. As a fun-to-have-around guy, Daniel might have eventually met that stranger’s family on the beach and received an invitation to drop by (along
with his parents and siblings, I like to think). Or, on a repeat vacation to Hawaii (one can hope!), that town house might actually become the one rented by our family.
But on that particular day, those were not the governing circumstances. And so, to his horror, Daniel discovered that he wasn’t where he thought he was or wanted to be—and he certainly wasn’t wanted where he was!
Life can be like that sometimes. We can get our bearings confused and misunderstand the cues coming from our environment.
For Daniel, his misunderstanding resulted in his having to bolt out a patio door in serpentine fashion, mumbling apologies along the way. But for the larger and more profound misunderstanding that pertains to this book’s topic, the consequences can be tragic.
It’s an oversight that can fill our outlook on life with confusion, doubt, and stress. How did this happen? we end up asking ourselves. Why am I here? What brought me to this point? Am I stuck in this mess forever? Our situation seems so far from what we planned, what we expected, what we hoped. How did all that slip away?
Relationships, jobs, and opportunities that began with such promise can degenerate into lethargy, disappointment, regret, and even bitterness. Ultimately, this huge misconception I’m speaking of can lead to wasted months, lost years—even a squandered life.
It can play out like this:
• A young husband and wife grow disillusioned about their marriage; their bliss once held eternal promise but now seems crushed under the suffocating weight of unmet expectations.
• A mother and father are bewildered by their adolescent son’s anger and rebellion; the child they loved as a preschooler, who gave them so much love and joy in return, has become a stranger.
• A woman in her fifties wrestles with the depressing awareness that certain dreams, cherished since her youth, may never find fulfillment.
• A man in his thirties languishes in a difficult job, but the worst struggle of all happens every morning as he searches for a compelling motivation to embrace the day.
• An executive who has achieved tremendous success in his career now reaches the sickening realization that his ambition cost him his family.
• A talented and personable young woman who once enjoyed setting enthusiastic goals for herself now finds that she’s bored with life.
How do we prevent those scenarios?
Can they be avoided?
An invaluable part of the answer is to better recognize the proper flow of our lives from God’s perspective—and, in particular, to catch the God-designed seasonal rhythms that underlie His plans for us, in everything we do.
Probably the most famous Scripture passage that addresses this issue is found in Ecclesiastes 3, beginning with the well-known words “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” This and the following lines are a favorite passage for many, filled with that attractive mix of the familiar and the mysterious that so often gives memorable poetry its greatness and power.
To step back a little for a bigger view, you may recall how the book of Ecclesiastes paints a broad-stroke portrait of “everything that is done under the sun” (1:14, esv)—that is, of life’s reality as considered especially from a this-world, here-and-now perspective.
I’m sure you also remember from the creation account in Genesis 1 that the sun is described there as the “greater light” among the heavenly beacons God created as markers “for signs and seasons, and for days and years” (verses 14, 16). So as far back as the opening page of Scripture, we see the seasons as a dynamic, God-ordained feature of life on earth.
This leads us to something we learned in science class at school—how the earth’s tilt on its axis is what allows the sun’s influence to bring about the seasons we experience. During our planet’s yearly orbit around the sun, the Northern Hemisphere warms up as it swings around and faces the sun more directly (reaching a peak in June); six months later it’s the Southern Hemisphere’s turn to do the same, leaving the northern regions to chill.
Maybe you’ve wondered about this. Exactly why did the Creator set it up this way and divide the year into seasons? Since the Bible emphasizes that God made the earth “good” (as we’re told seven times in Genesis 1), why didn’t He simply set the earth’s thermostat to a comfortable room temperature and create a greenhouse effect year round? Why include dramatic climatic changes throughout each year, from bitter cold in the dead of winter to sweltering heat during summer? As a dad who’s bankrolling a fashion-conscious daughter, I’m fully aware of the expense of maintaining
separate wardrobes to accommodate four rotating seasons!
Of course, not every region of the world has four clearly distinct seasons. The Arctic and Antarctica never warm up because their latitudes are too extreme; seasons there are identified by the amount of sunlight they receive, or the lack thereof. In regions closest to the equator, where the earth’s tilt is hardly noticeable, temperatures stay fairly constant, and seasons are more typically thought of as wet or dry (though even these rainfall patterns are ultimately affected by the sun’s influence and the earth’s tilt).
Moreover, because oceans warm up and cool off at different rates than dry land does, islands and coastal regions tend to have much more moderate seasonal changes than inland areas do. Related to this is the fact that the Northern Hemisphere has larger land masses than the Southern Hemisphere has, bringing differences in how the seasons are experienced in the north and the south. (All of which means…if you’re reading this while living in a South Atlantic beach house near the tip of Argentina, you might have to take my word for some things.)
By now I’ve taxed the limits of my scientific pedagogical abilities. (I passed high school physics only because I was astute enough to recruit a brilliant lab partner.) My overall point here is simply this: God intentionally, right from the start, built change and variety into creation, and the upshot for you and me is that things don’t stay the same. God loves order, but He also delights in diversity; He therefore combined the two when He created the earth.
And so, when we push farther into the Bible and reach Ecclesiastes, where we come across that repeated phrase “under the sun,” we already have an awareness of these God-designed, sun-triggered seasonal features in the background of our existence.
Excerpted from The Seasons of God by Richard Blackaby. Copyright © 2012 by Richard Blackaby. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.