The minister met his trusted friend each Tuesday to discuss the week’s sermon. After describing what he was planning for Sunday, about living lives of gratitude, his friend asked if he was going to mention being grateful for the challenges and difficulties of life. The awkward pause said as much as his response: “It’s not in my outline.”

They laughed, knowing how often the important things are not in our outlines. Whether in the pulpit, at a kitchen table, or on a walk, some of the most important things we need to say are not the things we actually say. We carefully plan what we want say, but leave out what we need to say. With outlines all neat and tidy, the most important things are scribbled in the margins.

I wonder if the same is true of not only of what we say but the lives we live as well. Like a well-crafted speech, we spend much of our time crafting our lives. We work here, spend time with these people, and slowly arrange our lives like words on a page.

It may work for awhile, but eventually the words from the margins, the unplanned events, will have their say. Whether it’s a call from a doctor, a “you have a second” from a boss, or a “we need to talk” from a spouse or child, the unscripted moments will come and demand we leave our outlines and improvise.

Because of all my insecurities and fears, I long for outlines. What will this week be like? Who are my children becoming? What is my life all about? Answers would be so reassuring, but life would lose much of it’s magic as well. Like the wise member of AA who said that had he written down all his dreams when he first got sober he would have sold himself woefully short, my plans could be far short of what God intends.

As much as I want to live in the comfort of an outline, such a life becomes stagnant, lifeless and dull. It also misleads me into thinking that my life is something of my own creating. Better to live in the margins and in-between spaces, where there’s room to dance and be surprised by the one who gave this life to us in the first place.

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