On New Year’s Eve I decided I would brew a batch of beer. In honor of the long Christian brewing tradition, I decided to make a Trappist-style ale, and that the few hours during the process would be times of silence, prayer, and reflection for me.
Great plan, right? Yeah, that’s not exactly how it went.
Let me preface this story by talking about a few changes we made when we moved into our house in Louisville from our old home in Nashville.
First, our Nashville home was in a development that was less than twenty years old. The trees weren’t very big, and I could rake the leaves once a year and be fine. In Louisville, we live in a much older neighborhood with very tall trees that shed leaves constantly through the fall and winter. I can spend hours blowing and raking every weekend and still not keep up. My retired neighbors who have no kids at home are able to keep up (God Bless ‘em), but the rest of just us do our best.
Second, our cat, Charlotte, is now an outside cat. Right around the time our second daughter was born, Charlotte decided to forget her house training, and we were constantly cleaning the carpets as best we could. Now the lives in the garage and still poops in my kids’ loft hideout.
So on New Year’s Eve I’m in the garage, have all my equipment and ingredients ready to go, and looking forward to a few hours of silence and prayer with no distractions.
I use a propane burner to heat up water for the various stages of the brewing process, and I can’t keep the garage door closed when it’s on without getting carbon monoxide poisoning. I had swept out all the leaves that had blown in the garage, hoping the wind would cooperate.
It didn’t. It kept swirling around, in and out of the garage, sometimes blowing leaves in, sometimes taking them back out. This made it very hard to concentrate.
Charlotte, now that she is an outside cat, often feels forgotten. Since I was sitting there quite still the garage, she jumped up into my lap and started purring loudly. I tried to push it out of my mind and focus, but that same wind would blow little bits of cat dander up in my nose and make me sneeze.
Between the wind, the leaves, the cat, and an ingredient snafu that caused me to make an emergency run to the store, I got really upset. I had these great plans for a few hours of silence and prayer. How was I supposed to encounter God with all these distractions?
I realized that my very presumption of what encountering God would look like was the problem. I figured I could control all the variables, just as I try to do when I’m brewing, to get the desired outcome. It was as if God was saying to me, “you can no more control how you encounter me than you can control the wind or where your cat pees.” Perhaps that was a more profound lesson than whatever abstract theological point I might have otherwise pondered if I continued to think I could control the circumstances.
As a old year passes and a new one begins, I pray I can remember how little I actually control in my day to day life, and that God can work in spite of, and even through, all the things that interrupt the schedule.