On an early November morning, I sat with a group whose company I didn’t deserve. Six of us individuals—a few business executives, authors, and a friend who invited me to the breakfast gathering. One of the business leaders was in town for work, and my friend wanted to host a little roundtable with some close connections in town. In retrospect, our time together was the beginning of the reflection process on The Year of Our Lord 2020.
I cherished their wise words throughout our time together. Somewhere in the middle, I spoke for a few minutes about an idea.
The following is an expanded version of those few minutes. A reflection teased out through a little 2×2 graph, and accompanied by a miraculous story I learned through my alma mater, Taylor University. In the end, I hope you walk away with a tool that serves as a helpful visual for 2021 and beyond.
Away from God & In God
Three years ago, I read Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch. A marvelous little book about walking alongside others in a manner that is both . . . strong and weak. He does so through a 2×2 grid with accompanying terminology and methodology. I’ll leave it at that. It’s a thought-provoking work from one of my favorite modern-day authors. A great last-second Christmas gift, perhaps.
But the point of this section isn’t Strong and Weak, but how a 2×2 grid can provide clarity in times of uncertainty—when a side-by-side comparison isn’t enough. Crouch states:
There’s nothing I find quite as satisfying as a 2×2 chart at their right time. The 2×2 helps us grasp the nature of paradox. When used properly, the 2×2 can take two ideas we thought were opposed to one another and show how they complement one another.Page 12, Strong and Weak
Since reading Strong and Weak, I hadn’t thought much about the 2×2 grid itself or how I could use the tool to help process various areas of my life.
Until the mid-November morning I sat with a group of mentors—all of us trying to process what in the literal world just happened, is happening, or will happen.
I thought about the year my wife, Lauren, and I had.
At first, I thought about dichotomizing our year into moments we felt “away from God” and the moments we felt “near God”. But as I sat in our small circle, and pondered what to share, I knew there was something more rich and complex than those two ends of the spectrum.
Was this year really just a matter of feeling “close to” or “far away” from God? Was there something greater at stake that took place from March 2020 through December 2020? (And inevitably beyond). What had shone through humanity in this season, and how did it reveal matters of each, respective human heart?
My mind thought back to the 2×2 grid.
I pulled out my blue notebook and interacted with a 2×2 grid for the first time since reading Strong and Weak. I started with “Away from God” (Romans 1:24-25) and “In God” (John 15:4-5) on opposite ends of the X-axis, and then addressed the “Y”.
I drew the following:
It’s rough. Could you tell? But the idea is there. As I did my best to explain the X-axis to the small group and how it related to the newly-formed Y-axis, I saw heads nodding up and down—some of them even took a few notes. Their actions were affirming, of course, but more so comforting as I simply tried to process this year and how I thought Lauren and I were impacted through it all. Just as anyone and everyone has their own story of how 2020 impacted them.
As for the Y-Axis . . .
Stability & Uncertainty
I couldn’t ignore the economical ramifications of the year—for Lauren and I, yes, but also for the millions of individuals who had to reckon with a worldwide pandemic and what it meant for their home, business, budget, family, friends, relatives and so on. You can’t ignore the fact that for some, this year was the worst thing that could have happened—for others, the best.
This year’s economic spectrum is a tragic reality, really. Especially when pitted against the sickness and loss of life—for families directly or indirectly impacted.
So I took those two terms to heart: “uncertainty” and “stability”.
For Lauren and I, the financial certainty or uncertainty throughout this year largely determined how close to or far away we felt from God’s goodness, mercy, and love. We know those three attributes of God are present in prayer and meditation on His Word—both are readily available regardless of our worldly state. Alas, Lauren and I were mostly driven to prayer and His Word in times of uncertainty.
June 5th, 2020? We felt pretty good that day. Secure and stable enough with work to provide for our little family of four.
July 10th, 2020? Some confusion with a couple of my clients led us to unease and uncertainty about the following month’s paycheck(s). Lauren and I would hit our knees together in prayer.
And so the story goes. Amid the proverbial 2×2 (I haven’t actually charted each of my days), I would be so curious to find out where we’ve landed on the grid throughout a pandemic. After I had explained the grid to my friends in the circle, I thought more about it in the days and weeks ahead. But first, a little clarification on the grid itself.
The following is a mostly-cleaner 2×2 2.0:
“Will, we need to have a conversation about your penmanship.”Ms. Stouffer, 7th Grade FACS Teacher
Never really got over those words.
What I explained to the group that morning was that in each of those quadrants—Quadrant 1, Quadrant 2, Quadrant 3, Quadrant 4 (had to get this in to honor all my high school math teachers)—Lauren and I found ourselves in a different phase of stewardship.
I mentioned to the group in November how the parable of The Rich Young Ruler had stuck out to me for months during the pandemic. I couldn’t pinpoint it at first, but again . . . the grid helped me make sense of what we’re called to do with what we’ve been given—the ramifications of which either draw us closer to, or farther away from God. As it relates to the grid:
- Wealth & Prosperity (Quadrant 1). This is where most of America lives today, or at least aspires to live. I don’t blame so many of us for pursuing this “up and to the left” because it’s so often what we’re told to chase: security, stability, wealth, prosperity, cars, homes, vacations, and material possessions. I think this is why the Rich Young Ruler was “deeply dismayed” at Jesus’s admonition to “go and sell all you possess and give to the poor.” The Rich Young Ruler had worked so hard for so long to earn what he had—why give it all away now? What could possibly possess someone to give away his or her hard-earned time, energy, money and possessions? What would the Rich Young Ruler truly have gained in return?
- Prayer & Giving (Quadrant 2). Moving to the right, it’s a bit of a “chicken and egg” scenario. Does giving what you have lead to more prayer, or does prayer lead to more giving? According to Jesus’s words, it seems like the former. One of the best parts about humanity in 2020 was that it showed how many individuals were willing to give their resources to others that needed it most due to job loss, sickness, or uncertainty. Lauren and I were on the receiving end of many generous actions, but also felt most fulfilled in The Lord when we were able to give to those we loved or didn’t know at all.
- Apathy & Worry (Quadrant 3). I think Quadrant 1 is the most dangerous in the grid—more on that later. But Quadrant 3 is the saddest. Men and women who are far away from God and uncertain about their financial stability, career direction, or familial circumstance . . . to whom or what do they turn? For we all turn to something. (Psalm 115:4-5). Again, Lauren and I found ourselves in this Quadrant at times in 2020—moments we took our eyes off of where true stability is found. The apathetic mindset struggles to get out of bed in the morning, and questions the meaning of work’s day-to-day requirements. Again, this is the saddest Quadrant, but not without hope.
- Prayer & Dependence (Quadrant 4). When the financially unstable wonder what life looks like from there on out, I’d point them to the most important person who ever lived—Jesus of Nazareth—and remind them that he was also one of the most dependent individuals who ever lived. What was he dependent on? For one, he was dependent for food, shelter, and other necessities. But he was also completely and utterly dependent for spiritual nourishment and encouragement—two qualities (among others) he found in Scripture and constant prayer before his Heavenly Father. What does dependence look like in the modern west? It’s part of why I’m writing this article. I don’t exactly know.
Lauren and I didn’t go to Quadrant 4 every day, but we found ourselves there multiple times throughout 2020. In the middle of deep uncertainty, we were driven to prayer together because we had no idea what the following days or weeks had in store. We didn’t know what dependence looked like until dependence came knocking at our door. Quite literally. Our daughter was born on April 11, 2020 and we had many generous friends visit our doorstep with meals and notes of encouragement.
How did dependence meet you in 2020? Who are you thankful for—for their time and energy to make your life a little bit easier? Did anybody bless you financially, and how did that make you feel in the moment? What does it look like in a post-pandemic world (with ramifications we’ll all experience for years to come) to explore these Quadrants? Which Quadrants will you pursue either knowingly or unknowingly?
To remain in Quadrant 4 a little longer, I’ll end with a biographical story and why I think “up and to the left” and “down and to the right” are in such dangerous opposition.
During my freshman year at Taylor University, I lived in Samuel Morris Hall. It was the same dorm my brother lived in years prior, and it’s named after the same Samuel Morris whose story I subsequently learned after my brother went off to college. In fact, I did a book report on Samuel’s biography in sixth grade.
The book? Samuel Morris by Lindley Baldwin.
It’s a quick, powerful read. In early December, I saw the same copy from my sixth grade book report sitting in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house. I picked up the book, read it in a few days, and knew I had what I needed to write this article as it relates to the grid—a 2020 review and an admonition for the future.
Samuel was born in an African tribe as a prince. His father was the chief of his tribe. After being captured by a rival tribe and kept as a “pawn”, Samuel experienced a miraculous set of events that set him free from bondage and allowed him to run away to nearby Monrovia which was one of the only free settlements near his rural African home. While in Monrovia, Samuel met a missionary who graduated from Taylor University. Through her teachings, he experienced God for the first time* and eventually begged the question:
“Who told you what you know about the Holy Ghost?”
After receiving the answer—about a faithful man who lived in New York—Samuel ran to the coast, where he knew ships departed across the Atlantic. He eventually boarded a ship and sailed to America, and there’s no way this paragraph could do justice to the rest of his story. I wish I had my sixth grade book report on YouTube to share with you.
But here’s the line. Here’s where Samuel Morris made the move to Quadrant 4, and honestly lived there for the rest of his life:
Without further ceremony he started on his way, running directly to the sea coast. He no longer bothered his head about getting the hundred dollars for the passage money. The Holy Spirit was more important than money; He would provide the way.Page 24, Samuel Morris
Samuel needed $100 to join the voyage across the ocean, but he did not care. He was confident the Holy Spirit would provide a way. (He did). This boy wrestled with God in prayer throughout the night, and lived in dependence on Him throughout the day.
As I re-read Samuel’s story, it became clear to me that he was a different kind of Rich Young Ruler. Samuel was a boy who possessed next-to-nothing, yet he left that something to chase everything. Even if everything was still a Mystery.
Whereas Samuel headed for the coast, most of us are heading for Quadrant 1. The safest, most desirable Quadrant of the four. We may not always call that which we’re chasing “Wealth & Prosperity”. We might call it “The American Dream” or “working on a start-up” or “growing 10x” or “saving for a down payment” or “honeymooning in July” or other simple, justifiable pursuits in it of themselves. When we work so hard to attain Quadrant 1, we’re actually closer to Quadrants 2 and 3 than we think—Quadrant 4, on the other hand, seems detestable, distant, and anything but a worthy pursuit.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Read: Quadrant 4).John 1:46, ESV
In other words, when we’re living in Quadrant 1, we hardly realize three other Quadrants even exist. And quite frankly, we’d rather keep it that way.
I hear you, because I’m with you.
But if 2020 serves as any kind of wake up call, consider which Quadrant you’ll pursue moving forward. You can take a brief, theoretical inventory of which Quadrant you spent the most time in 2020. I started thinking about how if you placed one dot for every date this year on the 2×2 grid, what would your chart look like? Think about a basketball shooting chart. Where would most of your dots from 2020 land? Did you have many days where you used your resources on someone else, or were you trying so hard to preserve the comfort we love? Did you mentally “resign” and seek easy ways to get by? To merely “survive and advance”?
Or did you think about how this year exposed a greater reality at hand—man is fragile. From beggar to billionaire, we are all surrounded by brokenness. Even in our own hearts. Some run to the bottle and others to the bank. Some sink on their couch and others drop to their knees.
No matter where you fall on the grid today, know that tomorrow will come. And if it doesn’t, then think about where your last dot was placed—in prayer before the God of the universe, giving what you have and depending on Him to provide what you don’t? Or chasing after that which will not last?
You can’t control any date prior to present day, but there is a future awaiting all of us. A future where we aren’t required to pursue Quadrant 1, just told that’s where we should be heading.
For a world steeped in uncertainty, I only hope your next dot is a little further to the right.
*Like Samuel, God meets us on numerous occasions before we decide to notice and talk back.