Acknowledge Stochasticity and Walk by Faith

I’ve seen it, heard it, and been guilty of it. In fact, I just did it today. Recently a well- meaning, but misinformed friend said to me, “That father needs to get his child under control.” That may have been true. To my friend, it appeared that the father was irresponsible. He went on to imply that the use of force was the answer. Sure, that may work when you tower over a child who is only two feet tall, but that approach won’t work indefinitely.

My friend’s implication was that this was a simple issue, in this case, defiance, and to correct it required only a simple action.

Reminds me of the story Steven Covey tells in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, about an incident on a subway train…

I was riding a subway on Sunday morning in New York. People were sitting quietly, reading papers, or resting with eyes closed. It was a peaceful scene. Then a man and his children entered the subway car. The man sat next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to his children, who were yelling, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers.

I couldn’t believe he could be so insensitive. Eventually, with what I felt was unusual patience, I turned and said, “Sir, your children are disturbing people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if he saw the situation for the first time. “Oh, you’re right,” he said softly, “I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

Suddenly, I saw things differently. And because I saw differently, I felt differently. I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior. My heart filled with compassion. “Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry. Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant

Things are not always what they seem to be.

Stochasticity is a term that means randomness or chance. While on the surface something may appear random, there actually may be a pattern, a trail of cause and effect links. The problem is, our knowledge is limited. What we think we are seeing may not be the case after all. That’s why acknowledging stochasticity in our lives is a healthy admission. We don’t know it all.

The story of Job illustrates that not knowing particular facts, in this case the back story about a conversation God and Satan had, can lead to some well-intentioned but misguided advice. It can result in angst like the psalmist experienced in Psalm 73 where he writes:

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

So, if we acknowledge stochasticity in our lives, what does this mean practically for ourselves and our children? Here’s a thought.  To acknowledge stochasticity is to walk by faith. Walking by faith means we recognize that the extent of our control is limited to the decisions we make. It does not include the outcomes. We make choices with the best information and understanding we have at the time. That’s it. Beyond that, it’s out of our hands. The burden of “outcomes” belongs to God alone.

Teach your children to acknowledge stochasticity and walk by faith.

That’s the tip of the week!

Curt Bumcrot, MRE

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