Nothing Just Happens: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Three months ago, I had a startling revelation. Owing to a bit of arthritis in my knee, I was much less active physically. My clothes were tight and uncomfortable. I actually couldn’t wear some of my favorite suits. I needed to lose some weight.
Now, merely making the decision that I needed to lose some weight may have been admirable, but the mere decision meant nothing in and of itself. If I was going to actually lose the weight, a whole range of things had to happen. I would have to change my diet. I went to a gym and I hired a trainer. I began to count calories and combed the internet for new recipes. I bought athletic shoes for walking. I started at a half mile and worked myself up to a mile, then two, then three. I set a goal to return to my weight at the age of 30. That meant I would have to lose 23 pounds. I weighed myself morning and evening and wrote down the numbers. I gained and lost, plateaued, lost again and then gained again. I set a time to lift weights every day. I deeply disliked the discipline of it all and, at times, wondered if it was worth the effort. Slowly, however, the numbers came down. I now only have two pounds left to lose…
While many of my clothes now fit me just as they used to, others are too big and will have to be altered or discarded. When change happens, one has to face the results of that change. Yet, as I consider this change, I am drawn to the conclusion that nothing just happens. My initial observation that I needed to lose some weight would have meant nothing if I had not taken the necessary steps to make that change happen.
Of course, this observation is not limited to losing a few pounds.
When I started off in academic life, I had made the decision that I wanted to earn a doctorate in Church History. Once again, nothing just happens. First came undergraduate work, then post-graduate work. You sign on the line for student debt and apply for scholarships. One learns ancient languages and studies arcane histories. Eventually, you gain entrance to a doctoral program and you find yet more challenges. Your presuppositions are challenged. You strain to afford the tuition. You find yourself on the other side of the ocean. You deal with a foreign culture. The blank pages of a doctoral thesis yet to be written, lie before you. Finally, thirteen years after that initial decision, you sit your final examination, your thesis is published and it is done. Done, but with the realization that there’s so much more to learn.
My initial decision that I wanted to pursue an educational goal might have remained merely an abstract idea had I not taken the necessary steps to see that desire become a reality. Early on, I had to accept the hard fact that it was not going to happen on its own. Most of you reading this can most likely point to similar scenarios within your own life and experience. While there may be some rare exceptions, worthwhile ends seldom just happen.
At present, I believe we are facing a reckoning in the Church and Society. In the Church, we are trying to define our place, function and direction. As a matter of candor, I must say that I believe that those who are seeking to align the Church with a particular political party, right or left, or with some form of nationalism, are wholly misguided and wrong. This view is based, in my opinion, on a binary choice, a decision of “this over that”. It is as though the decision itself is the determining factor and that simply deciding on a course of action is sufficient. Likewise, in Society, we are struggling with the issue of race. Although the issue of race has been central to the American story for four centuries, there are those who seem to think that by simply making the decision to be anti-racist the problem will be solved.
Once again, I have to say, nothing just happens.
It is, perhaps, the inheritance of evangelicalism, that, “my decision for Christ” is a primary theological construct. It is individual; it is of the moment. Yet, I would contend that whether in regard to the Church, or to Society, singular decisions mean little unless we are willing to back up those decisions with the reflection, thought and actions that will, with God’s help, yield real and tangible results in our lives, and in the lives of others.
Good reflections, Duane. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
I do worry that people lately are confusing optics and personal psychological states with actual progress and action. Its a worry, especially in our postmodern, posttruth culture. It’s like, whoever
shouts the loudest wins.
I think even these worldwide protests are just the spark to bring about a more fair and just society. What’s actually needed, concretely, are shifts in resources and personnel and priorities. Those are what will bring more long-term change, at least IMHO. They’re not very sexy and they won’t show up in the media much…but that’s really where the action is.
For what it is worth, I agree with you. It’s the real and concrete follow up that will make a change. I think that more than ever, it’s a time to listen and reflect, not merely react…
Talking about modern media and how information is consumed…
I have to laugh, every time I go to Axios. They’ll have a graph or 2 summarizing an article. then a link that will say “Go deeper (1 min.
I’m an older guy and I’m not sure how long ago it was — probably before Internet use became common — that a “one minute read” wouldn’t even
have been conceivable. It would’ve evinced a good laugh.
To think you can learn much in a whole minute… just struck me funny. But maybe it’s not that funny…or maybe it is and it isn’t. 🙂
This post and comments make that ugly word “entitled” come to mind again. Yes, this world turns by the grace of God. It is by His mercies we are not ” consumed”… was never quite sure what that meant, but it sounded final….
Once in a great while God boots someone into a place of useful service (Jonah?), but on the whole – as i look back – our usefulness takes perseverance, discipline and, hooefulky, a little blessing and guidance from God….
In other words, amen… 😇
Duane– “I must say that I believe that those who are seeking to align the Church with a particular political party, right or left, or with some form of nationalism, are wholly misguided and wrong.” OH..Amen brother! AMEN!
Am I to take it you agree? 😁
“Once again, I have to say, nothing just happens.”
Thank you for the good article, Duane. There seems to be differing views of how Christians should live in light of the racial crisis going on. One view is we should turn off the news and focus on our own hearts and those in our immediate circle. I think this is true to a certain extent. The problem with this philosophy is that it ignores injustice outside of our bubbles. Perhaps there is a balance to be struck.
Duane, I think you may have turned me into an SJW. 😉
Many thanks! I was just watching a short speech from 57 years ago this week. It’s worth a few minutes of time to listen. It sounded to me like it could have been delivered today with few alterations…
Wow… now THAT is leadership. That brought chills. I will be paying attention this November. Until then I’ll be reading and listening and looking for the smallest ways to affect racial equality in my circle.
Determination, hard work, thoughtfulness, planning, steadfastness will help you lose weight and get a Ph.D.
It sounds like a recipe for success no matter what color you are.
Those metrics can help us in other matters as well….
I am a Gen-Xer, so I grew up in the days before the internet, social media, and so on. I think we are many ways a victim of our own success. All these advancements have a downside, it further enables instant gratification, a lack of patience, and further catering to self. People get upset becaus it takes too long to heat coffee in a microwave.
Of course, patience is a fruit of the Spirit, so a lack of patience clearly is not. Scripture says to die to self, not become self-centered. And so on.