Pronoia

I had never heard the word “pronoia.”

Jamie sent me an email this week telling me about something she read about the concept of “pronoia.” She said that pronoia is the opposite of paranoia; it is the assumption that the universe is conspiring for you, not against you. The belief that the odds (and people) are in your favor. That the universe is waiting to dump blessings on your head. (By the way, don’t make the mistake I did and accidentally Google “pornoia” instead of “pronoia”—especially not on your work computer.)

The author J.D. Salinger beautifully illustrated the concept later to be called pronoia in his 1955 novella, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. In it, the character Seymour Glass writes in his diary, “Oh, God, if I’m anything by a clinical name, I’m a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.”

Jamie sent me this, because she knew I would like it, because I am blessed (and cursed) with a natural bent toward being a pronoiac instead of a paranoiac. Often this is a real blessing, because expecting good things to happen, expecting to be well-received, expecting that people are looking out for what is best for me can often lead to that very thing. Sometimes, though, good things don’t happen, people aren’t looking out for what is best for me or those I love, and things don’t work out. And I am not always realistic about that or prepared for it.

But I can’t help it. I’m a pronoia person. It makes me a really bad negotiator. I’ll almost always take the first offer. Aren’t they offering their best, most fair price?! But I love this idea that the universe is conspiring for us. Trusting in the long game, believing that it will come together and that it will be for our good.

What is also true, though, is that that good might come at the end of much pain, disappointment, and grief. Pronoia, if it is to be healthy and profound, must make allowance for the pain and loss that is sometimes involved in getting to the good.

Pronoia makes me think of Genesis 50:20, where at the end of a long, complicated, often tragic story, Joseph sums it all up:
Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.

Gerald Mann once said that long-range planning is absolutely essential, but it is also absolutely worthless. I think what he meant was that we should make plans. He was also warning that our best plans are unreliable and inadequate. Eventually, our best plans won’t be good enough. And sometimes even our worst plans turn out OK by God’s grace.

Because God has long-range plans for our good.

Now that doesn’t mean that we are just God’s puppets here on earth. That we don’t do anything on our own. That our decisions don’t affect our future. That God just orchestrates our lives—pulling a string here, a string there. That’s not it at all.

What it does mean is that everything we do is done within the boundary of
God’s great love for us and
God’s great purpose to carry out God’s plan in our
world.
And we may take ourselves through
back alleyways and
Main Streets and
we may go in through
back doors and
side doors and
front doors.
And we may have to have one door shut in our face to force us to
look for and go through
another door to another place
that God has for us,
but
God does have purposes and places for us and
God will guide us there if we will listen and
follow.

Because even when you get to your wit’s end, I believe you’ll find out that there is a door even there. And that God’s grace and mercy is behind it.

Pronoia. I always like to learn a new word—especially this one. Imagine this profound truth as you go about your day: the Universe is conspiring for you.

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