When Life is Algebra

Remember algebra? Algebra is defined by me as hard math. Not as hard as calculus but hard. It is considered the study of variables. What that means to me is that it is math with some unknowns or uncertainties thrown in.

Sometimes life is algebra. A hard-enough-as-it-is equation which becomes suddenly something very different with unknowns thrown in. Have you ever been rolling along, making decisions or plans and then realize you might have to start living your equation without knowing some key parts?

The pandemic taught us all that what we thought we could count on might not be true. We are still sad about a concert that got cancelled during that time and a few hundred other things that will never be. We thought the equation during that season was going to go one way and suddenly a few variables were thrown in.

Sometimes you have to say yes to something before you know how it will actually pan out. Job opportunities, choosing a college, a life partner or where you will live all come to mind. I still remember literally wrestling through an entire sleepless night about a job because there were so many unknowns. I woke up the next morning, said yes, and sent my life on a trajectory that was one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done. Algebra. Uncertainty. Variables.

In the book, Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People, Bob Goff writes about a piloting a small private plane, about to land it, when he notices he only had two of the three needed green lights signaling working landing gear. The two back wheels were a go. The front one had no green light. All of the sudden, an uncertainty, a variable. I’m no pilot but I’m certain you kind of need the front landing gear to be operational for landing well. I’m no mathematician either but it sure seems like that moment would be no time to have an unknown thrown in.

Goff writes, “….most of us want more green lights than we have….God uses (variable) circumstances to shape our hearts. God knows difficulties and hardship and ambiguity are what cause us to grow because we are reminded of our absolute dependence on God.” I do believe this. I know God will use all things for good. (Romans 8:28). I also very much dislike it.

I was told recently that God does great work in our transitions and in-between times of life, when we don’t know how things will work out. I learned it is normal to feel really vulnerable and emotional in the uncertain times.

I’m in an Algebra season, are you? I sure would like to figure out all those variables. I feel like I’d be calmer and happier if I only had to deal with knowns verses unknowns.

Life, however, is not quite that clean and tidy. One of the Jesus Calling devotionals from this month said it like this, “Remember that I can fit everything into a pattern for good, including the things you wish were different. Start with where you are at this point in time and space, accepting that this is where I intend you to be. You will get through today one step, one moment at a time. Your main responsibility is to remain attentive to Me, letting Me guide you through the many choices along your pathway.” (Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, February 7.)

In his story about landing that plane with only two green lights instead of three, Bob Goff reminds us not to ignore the green lights we already have. “What delights you? What fires your imagination? What fills you with a deep sense of meaning and purpose? What draws you closer to God? What is going to last in your life and in the lives of others? Do those things. They are your green lights.” Or in my limited math language, those are our knowns. Never underestimate what you already know.

It turns out the landing gear was fine. It was just that light bulb that was out. A tiny burned-out light bulb created all the uncertainty. What are your green lights? Count on those. And, because this is faith we are talking about, you will never have all of them operational at once.

What I know: God is good. Grace abounds. God has never once left my side. Math is hard. Life is harder. All will be well. Trust. Go with the green lights.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, breast cancer survivor and Mosa to Keller, Pace and River. To read more blogs, see upcoming events or to sign up for Cindy’s Inner Circle monthly Top Ten list, go to Her next top ten list will be on servant leadership. Sign up by 2-28-23 to receive it.

3 thoughts on “When Life is Algebra”

  1. Oh, gosh Cindy, these words really washed over me today. Thank you so much for your gift of words, and articulating what a lot of us are feeling.

    My son’s dream has come true. He has been accepted into the Foreign Services. He wants to run an Embassy someday. He and his family will move to Washington D.C. either in April or July, and he’ll be in training for 4=10 months. He won’t know where he’s going to be assigned until the end of the 4 month period, (unknown!!!), or if he’ll have to learn a language. He’s excited, he’s worked hard on this process for 2 years. So many unknowns, he doesn’t even know what continent he’ll be on!!!

    Me, I’m happy for him. But I went to bed last night crying, asking God, how can I give him up again to go overseas, when I just got him back???? I was thinking of all the things I’ll never have: having my grandson stay with us for a week in the summer, birthdays, holidays together… I was in a state… and not a good state.

    Then this morning I thought, let’s focus on what we do have, not what we don’t. And your words really touched me. It’s so hard to deal with the unknown, but that’s what we have. I have my faith, and that’s how I went to sleep last night, after crying, saying God, I will lean on you….

    Thank you so much for your blog, it always speaks to me, and I take away hope today, and I will hang onto that!!


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