By Joni Shankles
Like all humans, I crave certainty.
I admit that in my own relentless search for predictability, I seek solace in the most unlikely things.
With its rules and structure and repetitive rhythm of signs and symbols, math can exude a certain peace amidst chaos. Even when the world around me is crumbling, two plus two still equals four.
I run to math at the strangest times.
At the age of twelve, I made the foolish choice to try to car surf on the running board of my friend’s VW Beetle. When my friend applied the brake, I was thrown from the car and hit the parking lot head first. I regained consciousness, and found I was surrounded by people and covered in blood. Fearing brain damage, I repeated my multiplication tables over and over in my mind as I was whisked away to the ER for stitches. Math soothed my fear.
Unfortunately, I do not leave math to brain injury evaluation or checkbook balancing. As an adult, I’ve tried to apply equations of predictability to my relationships with God and others. “Equations work!” I reason. Therefore, Spiritual Discipline A plus Spiritual Discipline B must equal Desired Result C. And I work the equation over and over and over again, manipulating the variables only to discover that math works on paper – It doesn’t work on people.
But I’m stubborn. I’ve even tried at times to add in a little bit of physics, math’s applied counterpart. Physics tells me that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And yet sometimes it seems that action after action on my part sees no equal reaction from God…or my husband, or my kids.
Another car story: I am a model driver. I (mostly) obey the speed limit, drive defensively, even courteously, and wear my seatbelt every single time I get behind the wheel. And on the day of my car accident, I did everything right. I drove under the speed limit and obeyed all the rules. Yet someone plowed right into the front end of my car. My own rule keeping could not prevent someone else’s bad decision. My math failed.
I’ve learned that the right action on my part does not always produce the result I want. In fact, the math of good behavior or sound decisions cannot guarantee my protection from trouble or pain.
The certainty I crave cannot be found in math or formulas.
Certainty can only be found in the Savior.
Formulas fail. Jesus never will.
Jesus reminds me that I will experience suffering on this broken planet. He did too. The peace I long for can only be found in Him.
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.
You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
John 16:33 CSB
And when I’m tempted to cling to my plans for making life work, Jesus invites me to exchange my formulas for a cross.
“Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it.”
Luke 9:23-24 CSB
The invitation is clear: Deny yourself. Take up your cross daily. Follow Jesus.
If I try life any other way, I lose.
This takes daily practice.
So every day I’m giving up the math of linear thinking, laying my formulas down at the cross. I’m releasing my family from my demands and entrusting them to the care and protection of my good Father. I’m laying down the life I think I want and I’m choosing to follow Jesus, who loves me and gave Himself for me.
I have become certain of this: I can trust Him.
“Indeed, God is my salvation;
I will trust him and not be afraid,
for the LORD, the LORD himself,
is my strength and my song.
He has become my salvation.”
Isaiah 12:2 CSB
“Who among you walks in darkness, and has no light?
Let him trust in the name of the LORD;
let him lean on his God.”
Isaiah 50:10b CSB
“The person who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence indeed is the LORD, is blessed.”
Jeremiah 7:7 CSB