It is in the warm, autumn afternoons of late that I am reminded of how cyclical life is. Each year the leaves of the giant trees lining my neighbor’s farm flare to beauty before settling into the tawny brown of dryness. And then they fall, and those bare arms stand exposed for months before the warmth returns and all is bathed in illuminate green. Shedding and blossoming; death and new life. Again and again.
Creation has a way of going through these cycles, yet somehow it never wears old. If you live anywhere with true seasons, you know this — the thrill of that first snow, the loveliness of warm, spring air after months of hibernation. There is plenty of theologizing to be done in the natural world, and lately autumn seems to proclaim that our Creator delights in repetition.
Do we? In vernacular, monotony almost never bears positive connotations. We tire of the “same old” rhythms of our daily lives, seasons, decades. We look at yet another semester of school and stress with cynicism; we find ourselves unceremoniously greeted by old pains or problems, only to think, “well, here we go again.” Another month without a job offer. Another relationship landing in the friend zone. Another day spent on Zoom meetings at that same barren desk. Even in our present era of great upheaval and rapid change, repetition is a fact of life.
Satan has a way of using repetition to limit faith. He takes the cyclical parts of existence and conditions us to expect that the trajectory of life follows patterns that we are subject to, whether we like it or not. And in our natural desire to be “realistic,” the imaginations of our hearts stay boxed in by what we think is likely. Perhaps, in the process, God gets boxed in as well. We may attribute glory to Him when He provides in a way we expect Him to (as we ought) and we may see Him in small surprises here and there. For faith can survive in these conditions, but it cannot blossom to extravagance.
I’ve seen this in myself, how the tyranny of the predictable so easily stifles and whispers smooth lies that can become self-fulfilling prophecies. I felt it just the other day in the anxiety that bubbled up as I began to study for the MCAT, in the jitters and accelerated heart rate and racing thoughts about why in the world would I be able to get the score I’ve asked God for? Anxiety surrounding exams was no stranger during my first two years of college, but I thought I had grown out of it; when it reared its ugly face once again, the disappointment was palpable. Here we go again.
And then a phone call with a friend. I explained that maybe I just needed to accept that the entire three months of studying would be tainted by anxiety. After all, it never went away quickly before, so why would it leave in haste this time around? I needed to adjust my expectations, be realistic, and accept that this was how things would be.
No, it’s not, he said. It’s not about realistic expectations, and nothing is guaranteed unless God has said so — especially not anxiety which questions God’s ability to provide. In the gentlest way possible, over the static quiet of our phone call, that friend showed me how I had been buying into the lies of Satan, falling prey to the tyranny of realism and cynicism and defeat.
We all do this. We all forget that we serve the God who is not bound to the laws of time or nature. We forget that our God is not limited to what is “realistic”; He is the one who created all reality. He split the seas and fed thousands with a child’s lunch. He healed and cast out demons. Miracle after miracle after miracle, and then in the most glorious moment the world has ever known, He triumphed over death and reversed the decay that had already begun to settle into his flesh.
Jesus Christ is the embodiment of the miraculous, and from Genesis to Revelation we are told of a God who constantly breaks through the patterns and laws of this world to accomplish His will. Perhaps the only thing that is predictable about God is his lack of predictability — not in regards to his character, but in the ways He works in the world. I sometimes hear people say that nowadays God just doesn’t seem to work miraculously as He did in the Bible, that His movement in the world has changed and receded to more subtle forms. He’s still at work, they insist, it’s just different. But is it? Perhaps the problem is not that God’s actions have changed, but that we don’t make big enough requests, because our senses have been dulled by monotony and we do not pray with the bold faith that remembers who He is.
Indeed. There is a great deal in this life that is miraculous, if we choose to see it as such. I think one of the reasons Jesus always highlighted children as exemplary Kingdom citizens is that they live imaginatively in a way adults do not; as that same friend from the phone call loves to say, just because something exists in the realm of imagination does not mean it is untrue. Quite the contrary. Perhaps the imagination that sees the miraculous everywhere is actually more true, more real, and more beautiful than the weary spirit of adulthood which has grown to confine all hopes to what is “likely.” After all, the quality of being “true” is simply the quality of reflecting the God of Truth —a God who is far more wild, whimsical, and unbounded than we know.
So perhaps living attuned to the miraculous is twofold: for one thing, it involves asking for big, unlikely things believing that the tyranny of the predictable is nothing compared to Yahweh; and if God should not choose to fulfill those requests, we must not think He has failed. He simply has something much grander in store.
And secondly, it means we ought to suspend our unbelief and choose to see the absolute delight in the repetition all around us. If Creation does not tire of the cycles inherent to its existence, then neither should we, for we are part of the Created world. Perhaps repetition is itself miraculous, and we need to re-learn to see it as such.
This year, as the leaves once again change and fall and decay, I want to be as a child. When old things reappear and monotony wears its way in, I want to have the boldness of faith to ask that God might do huge, grand work that I have never seen before. And if the cycles of life should persist, as they will, I want to live knowing there is miracle in that, too.
In the end, nothing is impossible for God — not the wild, unthinkable things, not the too-good-to-be true things, not even the everyday and expected things. All is His, and He is unfathomable.
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”— GK Chesterton