There is an expression I’ve been saying a lot lately. In fact, I’ve been using it so much I’m afraid it will be inscribed on my tombstone by my surviving family:
“It is what it is.”
I suppose it’s better than some of my other popular Doug-sayings like “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” or “I need more keyboard in my monitor” (you musicians out there know what that means!)
I think the reason I’m using that phrase more often is because I’m realizing how little control I have over my life. I used to get so upset when things didn’t happen according to my plan. I guess I’m learning that whining and complaining accomplishes nothing in most cases! It is what it is.
But there are two ways to look at this expression. The first way is the perspective of resignation. That means we acquiesce to the powers-that-be (whether our human superiors, the government, corporate America, or “the fates”) because there is no other recourse. It is a “I-don’t-like-this-at-all-but-I-don’t-have-any-choice” perspective. While this perspective may help a person “cope” with the harsh realities of life, it also serves to shrink our lives and our faith. This perspective is also called “fatalism” and it is indeed “fatal” to the human soul.
The other way to look at this phrase is from the point of trust. Behind the “It is what it is” is the Great “I AM WHO I AM” (which is the translation of God’s personal name, “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”; see Exodus 3:14). In other words, God is in control even though I am not. And this Yahweh (“I AM”) is not a god who is distant and indifferent. The Holy Scriptures go out of its way to describe God as the ultimate Person – therefore, ultimately personal – who, amazingly, can and does express deep concern and care for every creature and thing of creation (see Matt. 6:23-33).
In this case, “It is what it is,” means that things happen for a purpose, for a reason. Paul sums it up best when he writes, “For I know that in all things God works together for the good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Does this mean that I simply allow things to happen to me and not do anything about it? No! (or as Paul would say, “By no means!”). But it does mean that I do not let the circumstances (good or bad) get the better of me. Instead, I bring every situation before God. My struggle is not with the disappointing event or the unmet expectation, but with God. So as I bring each thing before God, I ask Him, “What do you want me to do with this? What are you trying to tell me?” And I wait. More often than not, God’s Spirit gives me a prompting as to how I should respond. Sometimes it is as simple as “Just let it go.” Sometimes it is more involved like, “I want you to do something about this.”
One time, while in vacationing in Chicago, Letty and I had to buy 3-day transportation passes because the rail station had run out of the single day passes (had to do with a silly Cubs game or something). At first I was pretty miffed about it (they cost twice as much). But I fought back the frustration and asked God, “Ok, what do you want me to do?” I sensed that I should purchase the three day passes. And God reminded me, “After all, it is My money, not yours, right?” Conviction…
As I reflected upon it further (it’s amazing how much time you have to think when you take the train into town), I also thought, “Maybe God wanted me to buy these passes so that someone else could be blessed?” It gave me a sense of peace knowing that the Great I AM was in control of the “it is what it is.” He obviously had a plan for what happened.
Letty and I had a great day taking public transportation throughout Chicago. That was the day we rented a tandem bike and rode around Lake Michigan. When we finished our day, we arrived back at the train station. There was a local man (I think he was homeless) who needed a transportation pass. Since we had already gone through the ticket counter, we didn’t need ours anymore. So we gave him our passes. I could imagine his surprise when he realized what we gave him was not a day-pass, but three-day passes!
It is what it is.
(Starting tomorrow, our Whole Life Worship Devotionals will focus the on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry – “The Week That Changed the World.” I hope this will draw you closer and deeper in what it means to follow Jesus)