One wintry morning some years ago I dashed off to work with my mind already locked onto the many important things I had to do that day. I had been up since dawn shoveling snow from my driveway so I could get out. Just as I was finishing, the town snow plow had dumped a fresh pile at the end of my driveway, and I had to go back and shovel some more. By now I was running late. Several miles from home I remembered I had left some important papers in my study, so I had to turn back. As I drove up my street once again, I noticed my neighbor struggling to get out of her driveway, but I was in a hurry and continued on. I retrieved my papers and started back. I got to the end of my street and saw that my neighbor was still stuck in a pile of snow that the plow had left at the end of her driveway. This time I stopped to help. In short order, I got her pushed out, and we were both on our way.
Only later did it occur to me that pushing my neighbor's car out of the snow bank may have been the most important thing I had to do that morning, whether I knew it or not. And perhaps everything that had supposedly gone wrong up to that point was exactly what was needed to accomplish that end. If the plow had not dumped more snow at the end of my driveway, I would not have been running late. If I had not been so rushed, I might have remembered to bring my papers. If I had not turned back to retrieve them, I would not have seen my neighbor stuck in the snow. My neighbor was a surgical nurse, and my guess is the important things she had to do that day had far more life-and-death consequence than did mine. In any case, I have long since forgotten what mine were.
Life always seems to have a larger purpose in mind than our own ends, which is no surprise. What is surprising is the extent to which our own ends are made to serve a larger purpose, regardless of our immediate intentions. For example, Judas Iscariot set out to betray Jesus. Whether he did it for the money or some more complex reason, the part he played in Christ's crucifixion turned out to be quite different from the one he might have written for himself. He might have thought he was putting an end to Jesus' mission in the world but instead set in motion events that were crucial to its fulfillment.
Our mistake is in thinking we are the author of our experience. Gradually I've learned that when you're out on life's dance floor, you're less likely to get your toes stepped on if you follow rather than try to lead. I'm not speaking here of taking direction from others or of acting on instinct. Direction in this case comes neither from the head nor the heart but from the spirit.
I have found these inner promptings rarely address the big issues in life but most often the little ones; and if I pay attention to the small stuff, the big issues usually take care of themselves. "Take therefore no thought for the morrow," Jesus said, "for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself." To live for the day requires tremendous trust and also humility. No one likes to think of himself in the same company as a bee buzzing aimlessly from flower to flower. And yet the bee is never idle. And all that aimless buzzing is essential to the flowers' pollination; so, however desultory it appears, nature's purpose is served.