I’m reading Pride and Prejudice for, I don’t know, the sixth or seventh time. I had just sat down (my feet comfortably resting on an ever-growing pile of clean laundry on my bed) and was at the scene where Darcy proposes to Elizabeth when I found myself thinking,”Don’t forget. They get married in the end. All of this tension ends in love.” It was like I was distancing myself from that wonderfully horrible moment of tension when he goes on about the “inferiority of your birth” because all I wanted to think of was the happy ending, when the tension was resolved.
And it made me think of how different my approach to life would be if my life was a novel I could read in its entirety on a yearly basis. Would I gloss over the parts where there’s conflict because those relationship problems would be resolved later? Would I not get so beaten down when our house flooded a few years ago because I would know how much growth and goodness came from that? Would I give up on people earlier because I would see that their friendships were fleeting? How would my life be lived differently if I knew its entire course?
I think our capacity to not know the future is what can allow us to engage more fully in our own stories and in the stories of others. When I first read Pride and Prejudice back in university I was so uncertain about how things would end up with Darcy and Elizabeth, I was pulled into the story wondering what would happen on the next page, really feeling the moments where their pride and their prejudice brought out so much conflict. Because I didn’t know. And the not knowing allowed me to taken in by the story.
The gift of not knowing in life is a indeed a gift, often an infuriating one, but a gift nonetheless. Even as Christians the tension remains between the “now” and the “not yet”. We trust that God is redeeming the world now, but we are still waiting for the final act of redemption, reconciliation — where things will be made right once and for all. That tension is sometimes annoying and leaves us with many questions and doubts. But the tension is also what allows us to really live our lives, care for others, and feel the pain and joy that comes from being in relationship.
Just imagine all of the things we would miss if we knew our life story before we lived it. I imagine we’d skip over all of the wrong things. Because we don’t like this tension that is inherent in our humanity. It’s really quite frustrating, and so we try to resolve it in all sorts of ways. But (if I may go back to Jane Austen again) when you think about all of the warm fuzzies you get at the end of the book when Darcy and Elizabeth are finally together, just imagine what it would be like if you were the real Darcy or Elizabeth? How much more love and contentment would you feel after having lived out those months of pride and prejudice? (Never mind the fact that as Elizabeth you would essentially be marrying Colin Firth…)
I guess what I’m ultimately saying is that I don’t want to be afraid of the tension of living. And I’m glad I don’t have a Penguin Classic edition of my life that tells me what’s going to happen, because that means I can engage in all of the beauty and bitterness of my own story and the stories of others.