The Life I Planned vs. The Life I Needed

One of my favorite summer reads was Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited.  It captures the conversation of two characters: Black and White. Black is a recovered addict and former inmate who found Jesus, and White is an atheist professor who tries to kill himself. The whole book is a conversation in Black’s kitchen after he’s rescued White from a failed suicide attempt. The conversation ultimately is a theological one that centers on the hope or hopelessness with or without God in the equation of life. And it’s written in McCarthy’s terse, sparse language that gets straight to the heart.

Here’s one of my favorite points of dialogue:

Black: If this ain’t the life you had in mind, what was?

White: I don’t know. Not this. Is your life the one you’d planned?

Black: No, it ain’t. I got what I needed instead of what I wanted and that’s just about the best kind of luck you can have.

So often we try to define and control what we want life to look like… the life we’d plan for ourselves. But for some reason, it doesn’t turn out that way. And there’s a tension in perspective here. In McCarthy’s story, White didn’t get the life he’d planned so he gave up. Yet Black, shaped by a far different perspective, sees the grace of God in giving him the life he needed. Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). And in the abundance of life that Jesus gives, it’s always the life we truly need but not always the life we’d plan for ourselves. Such a marvelous mystery in the adventure of faith.

(P.S. Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones will star in the HBO debut of The Sunset Limited in February 2011)