Do you remember that old proverb, “Four things come not back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, time past, the neglected opportunity.” Rather profound, yes? I’m not going to elaborate on words we shouldn’t have said or summer speeding by, though much could be said on those topics. Rather, I have one particular genre of missed opportunities in mind and that is, “the missed photo opp."
I have several exceptional missed photos in my mind. In each incident, I was sadly not in control of the situation so could not go back and take the photo.
Missed photo #1 (1988, seen from a tour bus in France): As my mom and I approached Chartres Cathedral, we crossed a river on a bridge. There, in the distance, was the cathedral in all its medieval glory, and in the foreground, in front of a stone bridge, was a swan.
Missed photo #2 (1989, seen from a train en route to Seattle): I had my camera in my lap but the train sped by too quickly to capture a horse walking into the front door of an old dilapidated house, for all the world as if he lived there.
Missed photo #3:(circa 2010, in an abandoned house I wasn’t supposed to be in, somewhere in Murray County): I love the picturesqueness of old barns and houses. Apparently, so do skunks.
Missed photo #4 (2018, seen from a car, speeding by on a highway with no exits in sight)" Similar to #2, a cow was looking out from the front door of a dilapidated house somewhere in Montana. I’m pretty sure she was calling her children in for supper.
Bonus missed photo (circa 1977, Orcas Island, Wash.): My dad was driving home from doing errands in town one afternoon and there, on the county road, was a herd of cows being chased off of the football field by high school football players all geared up for practice.
There are other missed photos, of course. The perfect smile, the cheeks puffed to blow out candles, the grandparent now gone. Neglected opportunities, indeed.
If I let it, regret can overwhelm. I would love to have each one of those moments captured on film and hanging on my wall. And of course, there are many, deeper regrets that tear at me sometimes.
But there is one missed opportunity that I don’t beat myself up over, and that’s a moment where I have failed to adequately present the Gospel — or even just to say a word or two that will point someone to Christ.
You might think that this type of missed moment, this botched moment, if you will, might feel horrible, but the fact is I can trust God. I know that my words on his behalf are in his hands and his timing is perfect. To the best of my ability, I go throughout my day trusting him to lead my words, my decisions, my opportunities. And so, if I fail to speak up for him, perhaps it just wasn’t the moment. Or if I totally mess up the words I do say, again, I’m trusting him to make sure that his word does not return void (Isaiah 55).
When I was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru), I learned their definition of successful evangelism, and I love it because it alleviates guilt but more importantly it shifts the focus of the event to God, not us. “Successful evangelism is taking the initiative to share the Gospel, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leaving the results to God.”
Leave the results to God. It’s not up to us. That doesn’t mean we should shirk our duty. It doesn’t mean we should keep our mouths shut if we feel like we’re being led to speak up. It is not an excuse to remain silent. It is a statement of faith that we can trust God to lead our conversations, our words, our opportunities, which — though they may not come back — remain within the sovereignty of God.
“…make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace…” Colossians 4:5,6 NIV
Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.