"The course of life is unpredictable. No one can write his autobiography in advance."
Abraham J. Heschel
Joan Rhoden loves books. She loves reading them but she also loves finding them in out-of-the-way places. On one such quest she found a book by the title "Play the Ball Where the Monkey Drops It" by Gregory Knox Jones (2001).
The thesis of this little book is found in the period of the colonization by the British in India. As the story goes, the British had settled in Calcutta, India but they enormously missed their game of golf. So they had a golf course constructed on which they could play.
Unfortunately, many monkeys lived in that area of the country and they loved picking up the golf balls just as the golfers hit them.
The monkeys wreaked havoc with their game of golf. They tried placing a tall fence all around the golf course to keep the monkeys out, but the monkeys merely saw that as a challenge to climb over. And they did, easily. They tried trapping the monkeys and then releasing them far away but there were just too many to make a difference.
Finally, the British decided to change the rules of their golf game to accommodate the pesky monkeys. That was when they came up with the rule: Play the ball where the monkey drops it. With that small adaptation, everyone became winners: the golfers and the monkeys.
Joan Rhoden's husband, Dr. H. Robert Rhoden, is a minister and in a recent sermon he used that story to illustrate an important life lesson. Life is filled with unexpected challenges. If we were scripting the narrative we would write a very different story. But when that happens, we too are called upon to play the ball where the monkey drops it.
Most of us could look back on the past year and site many examples of life not going the way we would have preferred. Sometimes human error was the cause. Other times we labeled the incident an accident. Still others were the result of the evil world in which we live. Most of the time, things happen and there is no one to blame nor is there any way we can explain or understand why they took place.
David's ATV flipped over causing serious injury. Kay fell in that rest stop along the highway and almost died. John and Debbie's grandson broke his arm. Shane's knee had to be reconstructed. The barge hit the duck boat in the Delaware River.
Big snowstorms changed big plans. The tornado destroyed everything. The oil well ruptured in the Gulf of Mexico. The tire went flat. The huge old tree had to come down. The report from the doctor was not good.
All of us would prefer building a huge fence around our lives to keep these monkeys away but there are too many monkeys, and even the highest fence can't stop them. They just keep coming and coming and coming.
That was true last year. That will be true this year. And as a result, we are forced to change the way we play the game of life.
Which brings me back to the words of Joan's book: play the ball where the monkey drops it. We may not be able to guarantee the circumstances of our lives but we can guarantee how we respond to them.
Viktor Frankl, the well-known Holocaust survivor, wisely said, "Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is out power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
As we look ahead in to the unknowns of tomorrow we can also pray the serenity prayer, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference."
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA. Responses can be emailed to email@example.com.