We Can Diagram Sentences, But Not Life

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

Perhaps prompted by the beginning of a new school year, recently I’ve been remembering my elementary school days, and some of the routines we had and the things we learned. And one of them was the art of diagramming sentences.
If you’re of a certain age, you learned how to diagram sentences, didn’t you? For those who don’t know, a sentence diagram is a pictorial representation of the grammatical structure of a sentence. It places subjects, verbs, objects, adjectives and adverbs in a particular place – organized on a horizontal line, divided by vertical lines and other adjoining lines used for modifiers.
Diagramming was a very useful skill. It taught the parts of speech, encouraged proper grammar, and enabled the writer to communicate clearly and concisely. Even to this day, I still use diagramming, at least mentally, in the composition and writing I do.
It’s too bad that life can’t be organized and diagrammed so easily isn’t it? On the contrary, life is disorganized and unpredictable. As the popular spiritual writer, Matthew Kelly writes in his book, appropriately entitled, Life Is Messy: “[Life] is a wild and outrageous invitation full of uncertain outcomes . . . The mess of life is both inevitable and unexpected. It is filled with delightful mysteries and frustrating predicaments, indescribable joy and heart-wrenching suffering.”
So true. But from a Christian perspective, how do we deal with the messiness of life? Well, first, we have to accept the fact that sometimes things will happen that we just can’t understand or explain. There are events in life that are completely beyond our control. It can be frustrating, discouraging, even depressing. “Why me?” we’re tempted to ask. “It’s just not fair,” we’re tempted to complain.
But that’s exactly when our faith comes to the rescue. Especially when life gets “messy,” we have to place ourselves in God’s hands, trust in his providence, and acknowledge that he sees the whole picture a lot better than we do. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we say so often in the Lord’s Prayer. And there are times in life when those words become very operative for us. “Thy will, not mine, be done,” we’re led to say.
Yes, it’s true. We can diagram sentences, with everything in its proper place, but it’s really hard to diagram life. The security of diagramming must give way to faith and trust.
Something to think about: Can you diagram your life, with everything neatly organized in its proper place, or has your life been too “messy” for that?