Guessing and Fearing the Future?

In 1785 the poet Robert Burns penned his famous To A Mouse after plowing through the home a mouse had made under what was left in the field after the crop had been taken off. The mouse scurried away in a panic, leaving Burns to reflect on the plight of his “fellow mortal.” He sees in the upending of this poor little creature’s world what all too often comes upon his fellow men also, who build their lives under the security of what is but a clump of dry grass… and suddenly the plowshare upends it all and the wind blows it away. Burns’ line on that has become a familiar and oft-repeated aphorism: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley [go oft awry]…”

He continues his lament with, “…an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain for promis’d joy.”

It’s these lines and the last verse of To A Mouse that came to my heart as 2020 comes to a close. Burns draws his poem to a close envying the mouse because it has no comprehension of the past or the future, whereas he looked back “on prospects drear,” and forward, “tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!” Many of us look back on 2020 just like that; we look back and see the ruin that this plowshare of a pandemic has wrought in our world. Then many look forward, and though they canna’ see, they guess and fear.

We need not guess. We need not fear. There is another plan beyond the plans of mice and men—God’s eternal plan in the Lord Jesus Christ—and it cannot go awry. We may look forward with great hope and confidence and God’s promised joy that the world cannot give and nothing can take away.

Praying all the best for you all in 2021.

Here’s To a Mouse in the original Scots dialect followed by an English paraphrase https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_a_Mouse :

(They are shown side by side on Wikipedia.)

The original Scots:

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a pannic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

Thy wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

The English paraphrase:

Little, cunning, cowering, timorous beast,
Oh, what a panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With bickering prattle!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering paddle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startle
At me, your poor, earth-born companion
And fellow mortal!

I doubt not, sometimes, that you may steal;
What then? Poor beast, you must live!
An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves
Is a small request;
I will get a blessing with what is left,
And never miss it.

Your small house, too, in ruin!
Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
Of coarse green foliage!
And bleak December’s winds ensuing,
Both bitter and piercing!

You saw the fields laid bare and empty,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! The cruel plough passed
Out through your cell.

That small heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
Without house or holding,
To endure the winter’s sleety dribble,
And hoar-frost cold.

But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go oft awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blessed, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

15 responses »

  1. Great poem to reflect on for the year. I had heard this phrase before, but was not familiar with the greater story.

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    • Hi Jimmy, yes, Robbie Burns was a great poet, so much so that to this day, Robbie Burns Day is held annually on Jan. 25. Sadly, his testimony was not of one who walked with Jesus.
      You might enjoy another of his poems– To a Louse– On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet in Church. It has in it the familiar lines,
      “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
      To see oursels as ithers see us!”

      You can find it here: http://www.robertburnsfederation.com/poems/translations/552.htm

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      Reply
  2. haliburtonanglican

    What a beautiful, thoughtful post. And quite apropos to my own little beastie life right now!.

    I have been hospitalized since Dec 4 and on Dec 7 had double bypass surgery. Surgery itself was completely successful but too many weird complications set in afterwards (due to drugs administered to help with the main problem, water retention) and dealing with those sent me on a backwards trajectory. A place of total helplessness, utterly dependent on the amazing medical people here at Toronto General Hospital and of course as so many people pray, His divine Hand of covering and guidance.

    While THIS was not in any way an expected aspect of 2020, none of it has been for any of us I’m sure.

    Here’s to a far brighter, deeper, more meaningful 2021.

    With you in Jesus… and the physical struggle… Susanna

    This being the Holiday Season the ward is seriously short-staffed which certainly adds to the, ah, ‘interestingness’. Apparently lots of people calling in sick… and I don’t blame them. Who would want to work between Christmas and New Year’s in a Covid outbreak site? Only the most dedicated medical soldiers. Gotta love ’em.

    My attempts to control my own diabetes has led to some ‘issues’ with those determined to follow the protocol but we’re mostly working it out.

    At this point I’m trying to focus only on my return to the ‘real world’, which means I have to get better at walking and stepping up and down stairs.

    Since we aren’t allowed out of our rooms, that meant a simple tiny stool today that physio Zoe brought in, but unfortunately I was too winded just getting to it to even try. But have made several bathroom trips with the help of a walker, so there are my victories for today.

    Here’s to us all ‘letting go’ of this year from hell (just like the doggie below) and move in good health and spirits into and through 2021! 🥂 🥂 🥂 👏

    Love and lots of gentle hugs

    Sue

    Stripped of all the sijn

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    • Hi Susanna, now I know why you’ve been so quiet on Facebook for the last while! I’m thankful you’ve come through this, and for the “victories” you mentioned. May you have many more, and greater.

      I know what you mean by referring to 2020 as “a year from hell.” It makes me all the more thankful to know that “hell” is as it were chained, and that our God “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” And, as I read recently, those in Christ are confident that “Satan cannot reach us though he stretch to the last link of his chain.”

      Praying 2020 will be a blessed year for you, sister.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this, Allan. I agree that our lives are in God’s loving care. May He bless you w/ health and happiness in the year ahead. ❤

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    • Thank you, Anna, may you be blessed as well… and we are blessed. We in Christ are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. Not much can be added to that!

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  4. Hi Allan,

    Much encouragement and blessings to you and Marilyn and all your family through this New Year.

    I very much appreciate the leading of the Lord in your writings. Who would ever expect to read the poem ‘To A Mouse’ in a Christian Blog, on New Year’s Eve? “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    These words of yours are absolutely true for very many at this time; “and suddenly the plowshare upends it all and the wind blows it all (all security) away.” But it is also true that many at this time are prospering greatly, being suppliers of the much-needed goods and services to fight the virus. But even for them this surge in prosperity will be short lived and all of us will be trying to survive in a devastated economy and an angry world.

    But another word was given to us on the same day (NYE) in our Thursday morning prayer meeting, a word agreeing with your own exhortation: “We need not guess. We need not fear. There is another plan beyond the plans of mice and men—God’s eternal plan in the Lord Jesus Christ—and it cannot go awry. We may look forward with great hope and confidence and God’s promised joy that the world cannot give and nothing can take away.” It seemed that God dropped into our hearts the key for us to be victorious in 2021. A very short, simple word. But a word quickened and made alive… Psalms 143:8 “Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, For in you do I trust; Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, For I lift up my soul to You.”

    “Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning.” Keep me in the place where I continually recognize my need of you (for of myself I can do nothing). Let the first thing I hear in the morning be that you still love me, that I am still accepted and beloved of you. For perfect love casts out all fear.

    “For in thee do I trust.” Unwavering trust, an essential ingredient in our walk.

    “Cause me to know the way in which I should walk.” Like you say Allan, many look at 2020 and see the ruin that this plowshare of a pandemic has wrought in our world. For many, rebuilding is not even a possibility. So what do we do, Lord, what do we do? Once again abide in Him, where abides His still, small voice saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it.”

    “For I lift up my soul to You.” Total surrender unto Him. “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

    In Closing:

    I think most of us realize by now that there is not going to be a going back to what we have called normal. The trial will undoubtedly continue in one form or another in 2021. It is going to take faith to be able to sing the right song on the right side. So, let’s take His word and mix it with faith so that at the end of 2021 we will all be singing “the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are your Works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints.'”

    “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it (FAITH) the elders obtained a good testimony.” Let us provoke one another unto love and good works that we might all obtain a good testimony.

    “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls……”

    God Bless,
    Terry

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    • Thank you, dear brother Terry, for this very good counsel for 2021. I will be reading it over again not once or twice. We may not know just what is coming, but we know Him who promises to be with us through it all, protecting, guiding, encouraging, speaking words of life when all around us “death doth seem to reign.”
      My prayer is the our Lord will continue to be with you in your little gathering of the faithful, showing Himself faithful to you as you have been faithful to continue to gather with Him.
      Much love to you and Susan, and to all your family,
      Allan

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    • Terry, Allan and all who are reading these wonderful and encouraging words (from all),

      I heard a comment last week something like this: “2021 has to be better than 2020…”
      Like the little mouse, many people’s worlds have been falling apart.

      However, for us, we firmly believe these oft quoted and wonderful words of Isaiah 60:2:
      “For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.”

      This is what we hope for in this most momentous year. What a privilege we have to be living in this hour. We well know, be it through a glass darkly, there is no other hope but that which is in and through Jesus Christ. His prayer concerning us in John 17 “…That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me….”

      For some of us our worlds have been shattered in recent or long gone past yet we have seen the wondrous redemptive hand of our blessed Saviour in our lives. This we pray for, for those in the world to see.

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  5. I do not ask to see the way
    my feet will have to tread,
    But only that my soul may feed
    Upon the living bread!
    ‘Tis better far that I should walk
    By faith close to his side,
    I may not know the way I go,
    But Oh I know my Guide!

    I will not fear tho’ darkness come
    Abroad o’er all the land,
    If I may only feel the touch,
    Of His own loving hand!
    And tho’ I tremble, when I think
    How weak I am and frail,
    My soul is satisfied to know,
    His Love can Never fail!

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    Reply
    • Amen, Robert.
      And this one:

      Quiet, Lord, my froward heart,
      Make me teachable and mild;
      Upright, simple, free from art,
      Make me as a weanèd child;
      From distrust and envy free,
      Pleased with all that pleaseth Thee.

      What Thou shalt to-day provide,
      Let me as a child receive;
      What to-morrow may betide,
      Calmly to thy wisdom leave:
      ‘Tis enough that Thou wilt care;
      Why should I the burden bear?

      As a little child relies
      On a care beyond his own;
      Knows he’s neither strong nor wise;
      Fears to stir a step alone;
      Let me thus with Thee abide,
      As my Father, Guard, and Guide.

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  6. Tim Walkden-Brown

    Precious words and what a blessed hope, Robert.

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  7. These comments are so encouraging it’s like reading epistles and it’s good to be part of this family of God who edifies one another in love.

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    • Hi Alden, yes it is good. What you wrote reminds me of Jude’s exhortation.
      “But ye, beloved, building up [edifying] yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” In saying, “yourselves,” I’ve always felt this means not only something I do for myself, which is important, but also something we do for one another. “Building up one another…” This is what the family of God is all about, isn’t it. Edifying one another in love.

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