What life still holds for us after significant loss is one of life’s many “unknown ends.”
You may be old enough to remember the 1960’s television game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” hosted by Monty Hall. A hallmark of the show was that people sitting in the audience would dress in silly and outrageous outfits all trying to get the host’s attention in hopes of becoming the next contestant.
The person selected to be a contestant would win a small amount of cash. He or she could either keep the cash or risk losing it for, “What is behind, door number 1, door number 2, or door number 3!” Often the hidden prize was worth much more than what the contestant had traded away. At other times, however, a worthless gag prize, known on the show as a “Zonk,” was revealed. Receiving a Zonk prize ended the game for the unlucky contestant.
The same type of drama behind the success of “Let’s Make a Deal,” namely, the need to let go of something, risking what we already have for the possibility of obtaining something better often gets played out in our real lives. It happens when we agonize over important choices.
We may need to decide whether to leave our current job in order to take another that we have been offered. A husband and wife may ponder a question such as, “Should we risk the money that we have saved for so long to start a business? What if it fails?”
The decision of whether to leave a current relationship or to accept the risk involved in entering into a new one after a relationship ends, is yet another example of how the “Let’s Make a Deal” scenario gets played out in real life. The struggle we often face in making important life choices is that we must let go of something, trade it away in the hope of trading up, with the ever present fear of getting “Zonked.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes’ words, “Have faith and pursue the unknown end,” does not mean that we should throw all caution to the wind. There is real risk involved in letting go of what we already have in order to take hold of something else; something that may, or may not, be better. Yet this is precisely how much of life works. We must be able to live, and to act, with enough trust to take reasonable risks from time to time if our life is to be the adventure it is intended to be.
Sometimes living out the words of this fortune will mean our choosing to actively pursue an unknown end. At other times it will involve allowing or simply accepting the fact that an event or situation has an end that is at least for now unknown.
The decision to pursue board certification in professional chaplaincy meant my entering upon a path with an unknown end. I recall reading about the requirements for certification as set forth by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC). They seemed so lofty and the road to meeting those requirements looked so long. It even appeared unattainable from where I stood. When I took my first step toward certification I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t know if I will ever get there but I am going to do this anyway.”
One of the greatest examples of pursuing the unknown end is the very existence of the United States of America. The founders of our nation in breaking away from British rule and establishing “a government by the people for the people” could not possibly have known if their dream would ever be realized.
Establishing a nation in which individual freedom, liberty, and justice would form the foundation of the government, was a radical and dramatic act.
It seems that the older I get, the more authentically patriotic I become. I am proud to be a part of the great experiment of democracy that is the United States of America. The freedom from tyranny that its very existence represents, and which we enjoy, is the fulfillment of a dream of those that came before us. It is the fruit born of those who labored long ago and had the courage to pursue the unknown end; the end result was the United States of America.
Jesus’ life on earth bears powerful witness to living out the words, “Have faith and pursue the unknown end.” He once said to some unsuccessful fishermen on a lake, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5: 4). They reluctantly did as he instructed. The result was that they caught so many fish the catch nearly sank their two fishing boats. These same fishermen became Jesus’ first disciples.
Many of us are not fishermen or women and yet the words that Christ spoke to them speak just as powerfully and directly to us today. The term deep water is often used as a metaphor to represent the unknown, the mysterious part of life. In our life’s journey if we are to discover what God has prepared for us, we must sometimes prayerfully discern putting out into the deep water and casting our nets.
Putting the words of this fortune into action will require accepting the reality that most of life is a mystery. Of the many paths you have already trodden how many ends were actually known to you at the outset? The truth is we don’t really know how most things in life will ultimately turn out. Our vocation, our marriage (or relationship), our job, our children’s lives, what life still holds for us after significant loss, practically every pursuit in life has an unknown end.
Nothing is guaranteed. The words “have faith” in Holmes’ statement make all the difference. Faith provides us with confidence to live with hope in the midst of all of life’s unknowns. Faith reveals the real presence of God at work in our lives. As we continue to grow spiritually on our journey through life the unknown ends will eventually become less of a problem and become more a source of adventure.
The common thread: We walk down many paths throughout our life which, at least for a time, have an unknown end. Ask God to help you to accept the initial anxiety that comes with not knowing the end beforehand and to eventually replace that anxiety with faith.
This article is an excerpt from Fortune Cookie Wisdom: a contemplative perspective, written by Charles W. Sidoti.