- Brian Myers
We have a new project starting at work and I've spent many of my working hours over the last few weeks project planning. We've been preparing work breakdowns and effort estimates so we can make a commitment to the business regarding the project's timeline. It's challenging work because there is much unknown at this early stage of the project. As I've spent some time reflecting on this experience of project planning, I was struck by how we approach risks and uncertainty.
Each work breakdown we generate includes a list of assumptions we made as we estimated the work required. If any of those assumptions are proven invalid, we will insist that the effort estimates are also invalid. We consider the risks which might jeopardize the project. We do risk reduction activities in an attempt to minimize those risks, and we come up with risk mitigations to plan for how we will react if those risks come to fruition. All the teams hope that if things don't go according to plan then at least it will not be their team's fault when it happens.
Another project at work has been progressing for a while now, but the project managers are realizing the project is over budget and they might not be able to meet the commitment they made to the business. Now they are replanning and cutting scope to get the costs back under control. They may not deliver everything they originally committed to, but now that the business understands the cost is greater than it anticipated, it is no longer willing to pay that cost.
I'm sure these stories are familiar to many in the business world. The timelines, features, and customers may vary, but this is likely a common scenario in all businesses. It makes sense. It's good business to plan carefully, manage risk responsibly, and spend resources wisely. No one wants to fail to meet a commitment. However, as I reflected on this experience, I recognized that business is not the only arena in life where we make commitments, and the approach to commitments in other areas of life is quite different.
When I married my wife, I made a commitment to her. That commitment was very different from the commitments I make in the office. While we were dating and during our engagement, I spent time discerning the future of our relationship. I imagined what it would be like maintaining a home together, raising children together, caring for each other in sickness, and working at my job to provide for a family. Caring for a home and raising a family takes effort. Furthermore, the uncertainty prior to our wedding was tremendous. There was no way of knowing what our life together might hold. One of us could lose a job and we could find ourselves in severe financial hardship. We might be wildly successful and live in a beautiful house and travel around the world together. One of us could experience a severe illness that would change our lives forever. Our interests could develop and change, and over the years we might find that we have more in common every day or that we have less in common with each passing year. We might live long lives and grow old together, but there are no guarantees.
I did not approach this uncertainty like we approach uncertainty in the workplace. Can you even imagine a groom standing at the altar and listing the assumptions on which he is willing to make a commitment to his bride? I take you to be my wife as long as you stay beautiful, remain healthy, receive a good salary, and make me happy? That would be shocking and rightfully concerning. No, at my wedding I looked my wife in the eye and told her "I take you to be my wife. I promise to be true in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life." That's it. No contingencies, no assumptions, no escape clauses. We will see the project through, no matter how great the cost. No matter how bad, no matter how sick, no matter how poor, no matter how difficult, we remain committed no matter what.
When we conceived our children, we made commitments to them as well. We would care for them and nurture them, provide for them and teach them, protect them and raise them in the faith. There were no conditions, as if we would only care for them if they remained healthy, if they pursued a career we approved, if they contributed to chores in the house, or they committed to care for us in our old age. We will be their parents no matter what the cost. There is no going back.
In my domestic church, I am called to love my wife and children like Christ loves the Church. Our unconditional commitment to each other is a sign of Christ's unconditional commitment to us. Christ loves us without condition. We ponder that love this Holy Week as we again remember just how far Christ is willing to go for us. We cannot pretend to know the mind of Christ, how a fully divine and fully human brain would think, but I imagine that while he knew he was going to give his life for us, in his humanity he may not have known every detail of how much pain he was going to experience on the road to Calvary. Yet as he sweat drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane and prayed that God would let this cup pass, he then committed to let God's will be done. No exceptions, no conditions, no limits, no matter what! Jesus was willing to go as far as He had to because he loved us.
In our domestic churches, we are called to love Christ and our neighbors. And how did Christ ask us to love? "As I have loved you," he said. We love Christ unconditionally, without counting the cost. We commit to giving whatever he asks of us, whether that be to give a donkey to the Lord as he enters Jerusalem, to furnish an upper room for his Last Supper, to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion, to share an empty tomb, or to go tell the others what we have seen. We commit to follow wherever he leads. We know that sometimes we will be like the one who denied him or the ones who ran away, but then he forgives us, and we recommit ourselves again. As I take a few of my floating holidays to pause my workplace project planning this Holy Week, I am asking myself if I am willing to disregard the risks and let go of all my assumptions and commit. Are you willing to make the commitment?