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Hoping for the Right Outcome?


Many of us grew up with adult authority figures saying things like, "If something is worth doing, it's worth doing well." The outcomes of growing up with this sort of guidance range from producing over-achieving do-gooders ("I'll give it 110%!") to forming inhibited self-defeatists ("Why bother to try because I won't get it right!").

Of course, such sayings have merit as motivation, but they also seem to suggest that there's only one way to do something and that way is the right way. And yes, there are some things in life that work in only one way - like jigsaw puzzles - but there's much that can be approached and navigated in a myriad of ways. And your favored way may not work for your best friend. Or your spouse. Or the squirmy child in your classroom.

Relating to people can be a slippery slope. People are so vastly different. People are largely out of our control. Yet we want to be the best friend possible and the most wonderful spouse imaginable and the most effective teacher around. So, we approach others through the widest lens available to us... but it's still our lens. It's been shaped by our upbringing and our culture and our experiences and by how we've processed all of that to make sense of ourselves and our world. But maybe it's not the sharpest or the clearest lens for viewing everyone. Maybe it's tinted. And maybe it's flawed. When others respond to us in a manner that's different from what we expected or hoped, can we accept that maybe there's not just one "right" outcome?

Rob Bell writes in his book How to Be Here, "Surrendering the outcomes does not mean that we don't care or we aren't emotionally involved or we are indifferent to the results. We want to connect with people and move them and inspire them - and we want more kids to learn to read. Surrendering the outcomes is not surrendering goals or plans or dreams or numbers or results or ambition. Surrendering the outcomes is coming to terms with the freedom people have to react to us and our work however they want." Well then.

There's a great story in John's gospel. Jesus goes to a place where there's a pool known for its healing properties. He meets a man who's been lying there most of his life. The man says he can never get to the waters in time to get in on the benefits. Jesus asks, "Do you want to be well?" And then Jesus tells him to get up and walk. And the man does. Could there have been a different outcome? Was the man free to say, "Nah, I'd rather lay here another 38 years. Thanks anyway."? Did Jesus do the right thing in making him well?

One of the readings this Sunday tells of Jesus' encounter with another troubled person. The man's community treats him in one way. Jesus approaches him in another way. Was the outcome of this encounter right for everyone? A slippery slope indeed!

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