God shows up in serendipity


In 1754, English author Horace Walpole coined one of the most delightful words in the English language. He formed it after reading a Persian fairy tale titled, The Three Princes of Serendip. Throughout the story the princes kept discovering, “by accidents and sagacity…things which they were not in quest of…” Ever since, the word serendipity has been used to describe those unexpected jewel-like experiences of finding or learning something valuable when you weren’t even hunting for it.

An overstuffed life doesn’t have much room for moments like that. We’ve answered the call (honorable as it is) to live purpose driven, goal centered, mission oriented lives, but in so doing many of us have shoved serendipity to the brink of extinction. Sadly, God more frequently teaches us through serendipity than he does through schedule, and often we never even know we missed him. 

It happens to me too, until something shakes me awake. If I lose the serendipity, I lose much of what God wants to teach me. If I can’t hear God, my spirit dries up. If my spirit dries up, I have nothing to give anyone else. If I have nothing to give anyone else, I (and my words) become merely one more source of meaningless patter. 

So I’m learning to listen more to the call to live more loosely, in the sense that I need to make room for the unscheduled and unplanned; room to be inconvenienced even. Like the day Alex and Donovan came over a few years ago, when we still had a dog.

The preschoolers, relatives of neighbours, never came to see me. They came for the pets, often tethered on the front porch. One day I heard their enthusiastic voices from my office, where I sat writing. I could have stayed at my desk. Ordinarily I may have. Instead, I went out to say hello.  

While Alex and I chatted, Donovan wandered over to the front flower garden where a small painted rock sat atop a larger, plain one. The painted rock read “Grown with Love”. He stood for some time staring at it. Finally he turned to me, pointed to the rock, and demanded, “Who died in this house?” Because, after all, when you only have four years of life experience and you can’t read, letters on a stone surrounded by flowers may mean only one thing – somebody’s under there, and he’s dead.  

I kept a straight face long enough to read him the rock and explain, but the laughter wouldn’t stay dammed after that. I hope he didn’t mind. But Donovan’s  question got me thinking. I wondered how I would have answered if Jesus had visited that afternoon and asked the same thing. “Who has died in this house?”  

Followers of Jesus, see, are called to live as though God’s interests are more important than their own. In Christianese, we call that “dying to self.” But self doesn’t die easily – at least not this person’s self. Donovan’s question called me back; reminded me to be more intentional about putting God’s agenda before my own, so others see Him before they see me.

See what I mean? Loosen up and God sends a teachable moment. Serendipity. I’m glad I didn’t miss Him.