It Is What It Is, Because I AM WHO I AM
Our Lenten trek towards Jerusalem with Jesus continues to invite our re-reading of and re-joining to the Easter narrative. We are pondering how its mystery is woven into the fabric of human experience. Last week Phil invited us into an audacious trust in God’s sufficiency. If indeed Jesus is resurrected and love triumphs, then we can attend to what is before us, amidst any and all of life’s deaths, without fear. I am glad for Phil’s reassurance that this movement takes time to penetrate our default ways of being. I am a slow learner. But I am heartened and hopeful every time I notice it coming to fruition in my life.
So how might we actively embody God’s sufficiency in small, practical ways? One way is through our language.
A simple practice I have taken up is to inwardly reframe the common saying, “It is what it is”, whenever I hear or speak it. This strikes me as an odd turn of phrase. For what else could “It” actually be? In truth, we wish otherwise. The troubling circumstance, the broken relationship, the doctor’s diagnosis, the deep disappointment … typically we hope and rage and conspire and bargain for “It” to be anything else other than itself! But if this phrase eventually forms on our tongue, we are confessing our acceptance of a reality we cannot change and resolution to adjust to a new normal.
We can, however, hear or use “it is what it is” with two contrasting, inner postures.
One we might call, Que Será, Será—“whatever will be, will be”. With a sigh and slumped shoulders, we flatly resign to our fate. It’s a sort of blind abandonment to a meaningless universe in which from cradle to grave we have little purpose or hope. Eventually we must just accept what is dished up to us, get on with it, hope for the best but expect the worst.
The gospel’s alternative is to let “it is what it is” be shaped by the Lord’s burning bush words to Moses: “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Moses has just received a new vocation that, frankly, is way beyond him. Like Boromir in The Lord of the Rings, we can hear him argue with the Almighty: “One does not simply walk into [Egypt]. Its black gates are guarded by more than just [the Egyptian army]. There is evil there that does not sleep!” But the Lord’s response is a self-naming that declares a divine givenness. I AM WHO I AM. God IS. Such sufficiency is rock-solid for us in the face of even the direst prospects.
Utterly alone in Gethsemane’s garden, racked with anguish and trepidation, Jesus comes to his very own “it is what it is” confession. “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14:36). There is no hint of Que Será, Será here, a purposeless giving over to what he cannot avoid. Instead, Jesus has been shaped for this very moment by a lifetime soaked in the truth of I AM WHO I AM. Whilst raw and real, his prayer is accepting and hopeful, grounded in God’s “Is-ness”.
The next time you hear “It is what it is” on your lips or someone else’s, try to rephrase it inwardly. Remind yourself that “It is what it is, because I AM WHO I AM”. Your living into difficult realities rests on God’s givenness, not a random twist of fate. In doing so you are embodying the Easter narrative in common language and life.
Bruce is Head of Spiritual Direction at Tabor. He is passionate about helping others ‘talk the walk’ in ways that cultivate deep, reflective, and congruent living, so they can more faithfully walk their talk. This is expressed through his teaching (reflective practice, formation, pastoral care, spirituality, spiritual direction), scholarship, spiritual direction practice and curation of retreats.