Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Uncertainty and peanut butter cookies

Today I finished the second round of edits on my book. Now I'm paralyzed. There's no way of avoiding it--I have to face that cruel and cut-throat publishing world. Like a lamb to the slaughter. They will eat me alive. But it won't happen unless I try. Here's the piece I wrote on uncertainty.

A prayer for calm in a storm . . .

Let the Mystery Be: Living in Uncertainty

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.
Iris Dement—"Let the Mystery Be"

For as long as I can remember I have fussed and fumed about determining my own fate. I thought that if I really focused and worked hard toward a specific goal, that I could arrange my life in a neat little package, tied with a bow, just like I planned. I heard Mother Superior when she said that when God closes one door, he opens another, but it seemed to me that the doors were always slightly ajar, or perhaps falling off their hinges and I had to fix them. How silly was I to spend so much time and energy fighting to orchestrate everything that happens in my life? What a shock it was for me to realize that ultimately we human beings have minimal control over our lives. Lots of things—both fortune and misfortune—simply show up. I’ve been dragged, kicking and screaming into this acceptance of uncertainty. Having peace of mind is requiring me to give up the struggle for control and the search for predictability, requiring me to accept uncertainty, knowing that answers will come in time, even if that time comes after I leave this mortal coil. Just think of much angst and frustration I could have avoided if I just let myself settle in to the mysteries of life. Besides, if I wait long enough, some answers will come. Or not. But I’ve realized that my fretting about it doesn’t make any difference in the outcome. The only thing I can control is how I react to uncertainty.

Can you tell I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist teaching lately? I’ve been filtering Buddhist teachings on surrender and uncertainty through my Christian brain, wondering if I can accept uncertainty and just turn everything over to God. I used to think that God would just give in and directly tell me what to do if I asked the right way and if I badgered Him long enough. I wanted God to be like the host of a radio call-in advice show. Perhaps He could explain to callers like me those elusive mysteries of life and give out solid advice. If He would give his callers detailed black-and-white answers, just tell us what to do, we could always make wise decisions. And if He told us everything would be all right, we’d believe it. But I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon; there will be no talk radio God. And finally I have come to accept that we live in uncertainty because God must have wanted it that way. That’s what faith is—trusting that everything will be resolved according to the Lord’s own timing. The world around me may be chaotic, but in the midst of the chaos I want to find an inner peace, a reliance on God that can’t be shaken.

There’s a real paradox in this uncertainty situation. The paradox is that I actually may feel more secure if I truly can become comfortable with uncertainty and lean in to the Lord’s plan. And there’s a step further than acceptance—actually embracing uncertainty, reveling in the mystery. Perhaps taking life as it comes can lead to an unexpected outcome. Perhaps there will be an adventure, something joyful that I never could have imagined. Something incredible may come out of what may seem like chaos. Maybe I can learn to be grateful for the mystery of life. Maybe I’m headed for great things or maybe I’m headed for disaster. Ultimately it’s not in my control. I’m tired of fighting to mold my life into my limited idea of what I think it should be. It may never make sense to me, may never be what I expected. I can’t image where I’m heading. But if I just give up the fight and let life unfold according to God’s own inscrutable plan, perhaps it will turn out better than I ever could have imagined. I want to give up the struggle and live joyfully, even if I’m joyfully walking toward a cliff.

If I’m walking toward a cliff, I need comfort food. Last year at Christmas I couldn’t think of anything to give my father as a Christmas gift. He’s 88-years-old, blind, and really doesn’t need any material things. He’s an amazing man with strong faith who accepts God’s will without question. So I made my dad these peanut butter cookies. He loved them.

Peanut Butter Cookies

2½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1½ cups chunky peanut butter (or creamy)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter, peanut butter, and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Beat in sugars. Scrape down sides of bowl. Stir half of dry ingredients into mixture. Add eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Mix in remaining dry ingredients.

For each cookie, roll one heaping tablespoonful of dough into ball. Arrange dough balls parchment-lined baking sheets. Using back of fork, flatten dough balls and form crosshatch design on tops. Bake cookies until dry on top and golden brown on bottom, about 14 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets 5 minutes. Using spatula, transfer cookies to racks and cool completely.

Makes 4 dozen.

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