Providential symmetry. That’s what I call moments when life is integrated with an almost eerie (or ethereal) re-membering of space/place/passage of time.
I had one of these brushes with the Divine geometry that links lifetimes and the goad toward purpose/insight/understanding of who we are as I was driving home from the opening football game of UNC’s 2010 season.
This game had been a gut-wrenching experience from start to finish—and you can start it back weeks/months ago when the team had to start wondering about what players it would have on the field this opening night because of NCAA investigations. The whole prolegomena to this night had been a wilderness wandering so I wonder why it startles me so that my “signal” still wandered after the game.
Driving up 75N in Atlanta my GPS wouldn’t work. Finally I got the little blue light that makes your heart sing—when you know your location has been detected by the Great Eye in the Sky and you are officially “somewhere” and can be directed to your destination. The blue light flashed and pulsed and I anticipated finally some certainty about how to get back to the hotel so my exhausted children could lie down and go to sleep.
Instead, my location came back as near a cemetery in the nether regions of Tennessee—nowhere near where my body was actually moving on the highway in Atlanta in a minivan of people who felt lost too. A strange satellite hiccup? A crossing of wires? It felt random until I began zooming out to see where this cemetery in TN was and how my GPS could think I was there. I got a chill in my spine when I saw that the GPS said we were near Bell Buckle, TN.
That’s where the providential symmetry comes in—my GPS was locating me near a place from the past my husband and I shared with this game of football. When John and I fell in love he was a graduate assistant football coach at Vanderbilt and the head coach at that time took the team out to a place called Bell Buckle for training camp in the summers. That was an unusual thing for a college to do—mostly pro teams go off for training camp and college teams just come to school a little early and stay in the dorm and have practice twice a day. But, when John was at Vanderbilt just starting out in his career they went to Bell Buckle and it was a boot camp atmosphere.
John was a young coach just getting started and he was at the bottom of the pecking order. He did everything from watching film all night long to changing light bulbs in the football office. His first summer at Bell Buckle was a rite of passage—he worked past exhaustion to get everything done that was demanded of him. Some nights he would not sleep at all—and he thought of quitting but he didn’t. He hunkered down and worked his way through the experience.
Many think football coaches must not have much to do. In fact, lots of people ask me what else my husband does when they hear he is a football coach—like he must have a day job. They don’t realize that he works 16-18 hour days most days of the week during football season. He works 7 days a week most weeks. Most people have no idea how much coaches work and how intense the pressure is. Coaches work themselves to exhaustion and are scrutinized by sports writers, bloggers, fans who see you in restaurants, and even people you thought were your friends. Coaches have to be ready to move at the drop of the hat if the team loses too much or if some power-that-be decides the team needs to go in a different direction. And coaches can work hard, do an excellent job with their players, do everything right and still get blamed for things they had nothing to do with. Bell Buckle was a rite of passage into this pressure-packed, intense, arbitrary, alternative reality that is my husband’s career.
I wondered for many days why my GPS said I was there, when that has been so many years behind us. We’ve not been stuck there—John has moved up the ranks and he has worked with and for some wonderful people. He is in a job he loves at an institution he respects with good colleagues.
I can’t really comment much on what is going on at UNC right now with the NCAA investigation. It is a sad time. It is a time of frustration and anger. For those, like John and his colleagues and the majority of the team, who have worked so hard to follow the rules this investigation cuts deep. It is excruciating to be caught up in a such a distorted situation.
Maybe we need to hunker down like he did at Bell Buckle and just work, work, work our way through this situation. Or maybe that graveyard my GPS located me near is a symbol of some part of that hunkering down mentality that needs to die or that has died. Sometimes things need to die to make room for new life, new growth. Those providentially symmetrical moments in life usually show themselves in times of transition and in opportunities for healing.
Healing in this situation surely has lots of layers to it. College sports are in need of some healing to be sure. All over the country athletic programs need to be figuring out how to live and function with more integrity. That can’t be news to anyone. And on another layer in this situation it hurts when we find that people we trusted have not told us the truth. Betrayal is a painful wound that needs time to heal. In a deeper place still is a languishing place we all share as human beings. We have all been harmed and caused harm because of our distortions, our fears, our grasping. We all have blockages and blind spots in our lives—places we don’t want to look at and things we deny need our attention. Healing on that level means having the courage to look honestly at ourselves and at our own broken places.
It is hard to go there because that is a very vulnerable place and it is not often safe to be so honest about our needs. But these providential moments tell us over and over again that God is inviting us to do just that—to find ways to live honestly with ourselves and with each other. Sometimes those vulnerable places are languishing because we are afraid to live into our own light; we are afraid of using the gifts God has given us. Sometimes those languishing places are in the shadows of things we don’t want others to know about us. There are certainly good reasons to be protective of ourselves in this world that can be so cruel, so untrustworthy.
And at a deeper level still is this wandering, this wilderness time we occupy in the world these days. We are alienated from each other, from the earth, from God, from peace, from a way of life that truly feeds our souls. The American situation, indeed the world situation, is begging for us to live together differently than we have. We are all wandering along the road, looking for home, looking for rest, looking for a safe place for our children to thrive. And we all need to pass by the graveyard that sits near those crossroads places in our lives. And we all need to find the courage to let some things die to make room for new life, new growth, new ways of being in this world that are more life giving, more true to who God made us to be.
The golden threads of God’s providential symmetry run through your life, too. Keep an eye out for the healing path that thread is leading you down. It may just be when you feel the most lost that you find an unexpected route home.