If I told you I believed there were no coincidences in life and that everything happened for a reason bigger than the happening itself, for some of you I’d seem like a wide eyed right wing lunatic, for some it might ring a bell and you might nod knowingly. It is a matter of viewpoint and of hermeneutics, and I am glad to let you decide over this question and choose the side yourself.

But there are two things in my life right now – and when I say ’now’, I literally mean today - that I cannot possibly categorise as coincidences. For me they look an awful lot like providence and grace.

First - books. Over these past three years when I’ve seriously come back to literature, there have been numerous occasions when I’ve felt like the right books have come to me at the right time. It hasn’t happened only once or twice, it’s been more on the opposite side of the scale – when I pick up a new book, I almost expect to find something from it which would directly speak to my life and circumstances. It has happened so often. And this I call providence. It happened with Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy which was the first book I picked up after my mom died, numb with grief and loss. It happened with Frederick Buechner’s sermon collection I read last winter. It happened with Lauren Winner’s Mudhouse Sabbath which came to me through series of random coincidences (if you will) and which contained the right information I needed at that time for a lecture I was preparing. It happened a month ago when a friend told me to read Elisabeth Elliot’s Loneliness. And it also happened this past Thursday evening. I left Tallinn on Thursday, in desperate need for a break (why I needed a break is a matter of another post) and in the hope of a good long weekend away from my work and usual obligations. I landed at my cousin’s place in Tartu that evening and as I wandered through their apartment, I happened to pick up a book that was lying on a shelf. My cousin’s apartment is a place where they have always books lying around. When I’m there, I always sleep in their guest room which has tall book cases up to the ceiling, and I often take a long look at them. The book I randomly picked up this time was Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air (google it!), an autobiography by a brilliant and extremely successful young neurosurgeon who one day was diagnosed with terminal cancer himself. It’s a book about life and death and the meaning of both, from a man who saw them from both perspectives – from that of a doctor and from that of a dying patient. The afterword was written by his wife Lucy after his death... I picked it up on Thursday evening and I finished it on Friday afternoon, and descriptions from it hit home painfully – I too have seen someone die of cancer, I too have observed the decline of health and the painful death of hope. I too have had to stand face-to-face with questions about life and death and about their meaning or meaninglessness.

When I put down the book, it felt like I was ready to do something I hadn’t dared to do so far – to write about my mom’s last days and her death. I had dragged my laptop with me from Tallinn, not sure it was a reasonable thing to do, but after Kalanithi’s book that decision made a lot of sense to me. Here’s providence again.

And the second thing – my cousin’s summer house. After a pit stop at their place in Tartu, I got on a bus yeasterday morning and headed to their summer house in far South. It so happened that they themselves had to go to the opposite direction. My cousin’s father-in-law, a well-known Estonian movie director, was celebrating his birthday on Friday, and they headed to Tallinn for the birthday celebrations. But they were kind enough to give me the keys of their summer house for the weekend. We tried to find any other cousin who could bring me here and stay for the weekend, but everyone had already plans made so I came alone. And thus I have the whole place for myself now. I’ve heated the sauna, I’ve cracked open the ice hole in the lake with an iron bar, I have read and drank tea and eaten chocolate, but most importantly, I have been able to open my laptop and a new text document and write about my mom. I would not have been able to do it if my cousin’s family or any other relative was here. Then I would have ran around with the kids and played board games or would have had to engage in discussions. But alone in this vast quietness in the middle of woods, I have been able to bring back the memories, and I have been able to write – write about the things I remember (for some things have started to blur in my memory), and the things I can bring myself to write about (there are some details about her last days and our last conversations I could never write about). I’ve done a fair amount of crying too, obviously. But that’s fine because there’s no-one here to see it.

The whole thing has been liberating and painful. And needed.

And this is what I can’t see as a coincidence – Kalanithi’s book, my laptop, and the little sauna house, all in one place over a long weekend. Providence. Grace.


I'm sitting in a cafe near my home with my laptop and a book and a cup of chai latte, and I'm not sure what I should or shouldn't do with myself. I have a free day today. I can't be sure but I think it's the first day completely without work related obligations in three weeks. Sometime last week I began to confuse days because they had started to look identical and - I'm ashamed to say - the weekends didn't differ much from the weekdays. I was always attending meetings, organising events, or preaching sermons.

It's not a healthy way of living, they say. It's not balanced. People who care are concerned and I'm grateful to them for it. Dr A. N. tells me I should go away from Tallinn every now and then to rest. A., the secretary of our conference's ministerial association, talked to me last week after the executive board's meeting and asked me about how I was doing hobbies wise. I. asked... no, he didn't ask much, he just told me to take two days off and not to deal with work email until Friday.

But I have a couple of questions. And they're not rhetorical questions neither do I throw them in the air with arrogance. They're real questions. Why is balanced life important? Why do we think balance is something we ought to pursue? Is it an ideal? Why?

If I read the Old Testament, the people God called hardly ever lived a life we could call balanced. Heavens, there were some prophets who, I have a feeling, were driven to the brink of insanity and depression. Jesus was so mission and purpose driven it consumed all His waking hours - and maybe those of sleeping as well. Disciples, once they actually got what Jesus had been all about, weren't much different. And Paul was maybe the worst of the lot, he rode a donkey across Asia and planted churches everywhere, he got beaten by Jews, got beaten by Romans, got thrown out of cities, survived shipwrecks, and he never seemed to stop for a day. Only when in prison and unable to go on, he would write letters to his friends that smelled of melancholy and reflections.

Maybe these people didn't have anything in their lives that would have been nearly as weighty as their calling so whatever they put on the other scale pan, it just didn't weight as much so the life remained unbalanced. Now, I'm not comparing myself to the Old Testament prophets or the apostles of the early Christianity, but I think the same principle can be alive and lived also today. I really don't have anything in my life to compare to my work and to what I think God has called me to do. Nada. So I keep wondering about these questions, not knowing the answers.

If you have an answer, do let me know also.

There is one more thing besides the never ending working hours which has kept me wondering. I've begun to act in a peculiar way, I've noticed these past weeks. And it has something to do with this whole balancing issue. I know well what is ought to be or what usually is on the other scale pan - a family. And I know just as well that I haven't got a family of my own. So to avoid the emptiness and loneliness or just to be able to put something on the other balancing scale pan I have become much more active socially. I hang out with friends every other night. I have a small Facebook chat group called бабы в кафе which we mostly use for deciding which cafe we should go to next. I invite people to my place, a thing I seldom do. I call brother K. after a long and tough Sabbath and eat mountains of Indian food late in the evening - probably the first occasion of comfort eating in my life. I stand in the middle of an old graveyard late at night with my dad, trying to spot some owls in the darkness. Yesterday evening I went ice skating with our church planting group (it was -15'C outside and I wasn't exactly thrilled about the prospect of freezing to death but it actually turned out to be a fun evening although it did take a while for toes and fingers to melt afterward). This coming Sunday I'm going to a birthday party, not that of a friend, but that of a friend's dog (taking things to a totally new level here).

I'm reading Elisabeth Elliot's Loneliness at the moment. Reading that book is like taking cough medicine - I hate it but I know it's good for me in the long run. She talks about how our loneliness can be turned into a gift, into something you bless the world with. I don't know if I agree with her completely but it does help me to give purpose and meaning to my own experience. In loneliness calling can be clearly heard, out of loneliness many meaningful contacts and friendships can be born.

So I keep living the life of imbalance. It really isn't a bad way of living. 

And the good thing is that when my time is over, the world won't remember me by my loneliness or by my unanswered questions about balanced/unbalanced life but by my serving of God and church and by friendships and shared memories.