If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.
Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
This is not going to be about the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby ruling yesterday. If you have not already had your fill of the apoplexy over that inconsequential ruling, then you will need to look elsewhere. If on the other hand, you are ready for a break from that useless chatter, as I am, I have something else for you today.
What is it that I would like to impress upon you today: The importance of realizing that all things change. Sometimes, that can be hard to believe. Some things never seem to change and the more things change, the more they stay the same; seems more credible. Those of us that have been around for long enough, can testify to the reality that all things do change, given enough time. Still, the time it takes for some things to change seems quite a challenge to our patience when we want things to change.
But that isn’t the worst of our problems with the reality that all things change. It isn’t the long waiting for change that Lao Tzu is addressing today. It is the trying to hold onto things, in the hope that they will never change. But each and every day, change is happening in all of our lives. Nature’s cycles proclaim it with the rising and setting of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon, the changing seasons. This is just something that we have to accept. All things will change. And the very things we are trying to hold on to, those are the things that desperately need changing.
But we are afraid. Afraid to leave our comfort zone. Afraid of an uncertain tomorrow. We are so full of ourselves, that we actually are afraid of dying. No, we want more control over our every day lives. We are sovereign individuals. We are not slaves. No masters for us.
Hey, I get it. I, too, am a sovereign individual. But there is one thing that I have had to come to realize. That is, that all things change. And I can’t control the future. Now, that has never stopped me from trying from time to time. After all, I just happen to be in a very comfortable place right now. I like my present circumstances. I’d like to hold onto this for the foreseeable future, and beyond.
But what does Lao Tzu have to say to me about trying to control the future? He says, “Chuck, that is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.” I used to read this line, and get all interested in trying to figure out who this mystical master carpenter was. Is this God? Or, especially because I was raised in the Christian faith, I would think of Jesus being raised by Joseph, a carpenter. Certainly Jesus learned the carpentry trade. Perhaps this is an allusion to Jesus.
But all of that speculation is pure nonsense. Lao Tzu predated Jesus by five centuries. And Lao Tzu’s only direct mention of God in the Tao Te Ching is as a joke. Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you in which chapter that is to be found. If you want me to look it up for you, send me a message. But really, I mean no offense to my readers from communities of faith. I am just trying to demolish side paths where we tend to wander off.
The point Lao Tzu seems to be making with his master carpenter reference, is that it should be taken literally. Yes, I do mean literally. When you handle the master carpenter’s tools, chances are that you’ll cut your hand.
We don’t have any more business trying to control the future, than taking the place of some master of a trade that we don’t know the first thing about.
And yes, that is scary. That is the point. He is trying to get us to understand that if we think leaving our comfort zone, or an uncertain tomorrow, or even death, is so very scary to us; we should be more frightened by the prospect of trying to control our future.
Holding onto the illusion that things will never change is folly. All things change. That is reality. But if you aren’t afraid of change there is nothing you can’t achieve.