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July 17, 2009

Unintended Consequences

One thing I've been discovering is the role of unintended consequences in my life. My husband, Leif, and I talk about this a lot. He tends to look at people and think that if someone chooses something, then it's their responsibility to live with the consequences. While I think there's some real truth in that idea, I also see many people who if they knew the full breadth of the consequences would have made a different decision. These are the unintended consequences of our decisions - and they happen in my life and everyone I know.

I have to make dozens of decision every day and while I can predict a percentage of the outcomes with certainty, the reality is there are all kinds of outcomes that are simply unintended.

Some good. Some bad.

A while back, I realized that I desperately needed a prescription filled 20 minutes before the pharmacy closed. Since the drive took about that long, I knew I didn't have a minute to spare. I raced to the pharmacy and called in the refill on the way. Pulling into a spot, I foolishly miscalculated the distance between my vehicle and the one next to me and dented the bumper. Afraid to move the vehicle and cause greater damage, I jumped out and ran to the pharmacy - the much needed prescription still on my mind. After paying for the prescription, I ran back outside where I discovered a less-than-happy driver of the other vehicle examining the damage.

I explained the situation, begged for her forgiveness, and promised to pay all damages. The middle-aged woman was slightly aghast at what had happened and for good reason: She had just purchased the vehicle, her first brand new car, the day before.

I could not grovel enough. When the repair bill arrived, I quickly delivered the check and a copy of my latest book to her with a sincere letter of apology.

To my surprise, I received a thank-you note that said, "If anyone could have hit my car, I'm glad it was you."

What do you do with that? When I think the back over the events, I find myself second guessing where I went wrong and where I went right. If I had paid more attention to the prescription bottle's contents, I would not have had to rush to the pharmacy which led to the miscalculation in parking which resulted in the accident which led to a difficult day for someone else which miraculously turned around into being a somewhat good or at least not terrible experience for someone else. The experience of filling a prescription is laced with all kinds of unintended consequences. Then again, most of our experiences are filled with them.

We plan for A and get B or D or Z.

We hope for A and get C or F or lots of Y's.

We pray for A and wonder if our prayers were heard at all.

Even in our sharpest plans, our solid hopes and our steady prayers, we face the reality of unintended consequences. So how do we deal?

By embracing grace and remembering that despite unintended consequences, God can redeem it all. By expressing grace to others, and reminding them that sometimes things just happen as a result of unintended consequences. And in the process of embracing and expressing grace, we need to remember to laugh, giggle, and remember that this too, will pass.

Related Tags: busyness, Decision making


We tend to assign label those unintended consequences things like "spiritual warfare" or "tests", transforming ourselves into victims of our own limited, broken humanness.

Thanks for the encouragement to face...embrace, even...consequences. I'm checking my prescription bottles right now!

Really loved this post. Honest. Graceful. Encouraging.

I have a hard time understanding God's loving character in conjunction with our free will as believers. This comes into play with your piece on choices and consequences. When does God step in? When does he intercede on our behalf? Sometimes, it feels like mere "chance" with our Christian-ese interpretation tagged on to make us feel better. Do you ever feel like our prayers don't really change God's mind? I've been a believer for most of my life and went to Wheaton College, so I've been aptly charged and trained; however, it frequently feels like Deism could be an adequately logical conclusion. Any thoughts?

Those 'unintended consequences' are often not unintended to God. Yes, we have free will, but God uses the choices He knows we are going to make to orchestrate circumstances to bring about His perfect will.

Sometimes beauty comes from the ashes of our consequences. It may take a long time to see such a thing, as it has taken me nearly six years to find some in my life. But they're there, aren't they?

Your husband's harsh judgment on others, however, is exactly what kept me from being able to find the silver lining to the black cloud that I made over my own head. Yes, I made decisions. Yes, I had to deal with the consequences. But my God offers grace and forgiveness, He welcomes me with open arms when I repent. When Christians offer up such harsh statements like, "You chose this, deal with it," we're not offering the same grace, the same love as our Lord. I'm not saying to put on rose-colored glasses and ignore their sin. A statement of, "Yes, you did this, this happened and now let's see what we can make of all of it," is far more appropriate.

I have been so blessed by unintended consequences. I've paid dearly, of course, but I refuse to be put down by fellow Christians and non-Christians alike. My life is a blessing because of good and bad decisions alike. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 2:8 is a beautiful way to look at it, don't you agree?

That should say 8:28 but my youngest son is helping me type today. Another blessing indeed!

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