My mother never got upset when we were stuck in traffic — never. And when I would get antsy and impatient in the back seat, she would calmly say something like, “Well, we don’t know what God is saving us from.” I would roll my eyes and chalk it up to another mom-ism or Jamaican saying.
But it turns out Mom was right. She may not have had a name for it, but she was wisely teaching me the “Burnt Toast Theory.”
What is the Burnt Toast Theory?
The “Burnt Toast Theory” — an idea that recently made the rounds on social media — is the concept that burning your toast in the morning (and having to remake it or find something else to eat) would probably delay you by five or 10 minutes or so and give you a less-than-ideal start to your day. It might even cause a little stress and anxiety. But those 10 minutes could be saving you from more unpleasant circumstances than inedible bread.
Perhaps the extra time it takes to leave the house causes you to avoid a fatal car crash — one you would have been in. On the other hand, those extra minutes could put you on a path to something you would otherwise miss — like sitting next to your future soulmate because you ended up on the 8:45 train.
The belief is that burnt toast — a metaphor for inconveniences, setbacks, delays and missed opportunities — may exist for a reason. In other words, maybe they’re blessings in disguise.
The Burnt Toast Theory in Action
Looking back, I can see so many burnt toast moments in my life — times when a disappointment saved me from a disaster.
There was the time I was house-shopping with my spouse. We were expecting our second child and eager to own a home. After missing out on a few houses, we put in an offer on one that needed some work. We had to scrape together our down payment, and we barely owned a hammer, but we somehow convinced ourselves that we had the resources and know-how to take on projects like moving a staircase to make an upstairs bedroom accessible. You know, simple DIY work.
We offered the seller their asking price and eagerly awaited the yes. To our surprise, we were turned down. No counteroffer, no negotiation — just a flat-out “No.”
It took a few weeks to get over the disappointment, but when we did, we could see that we were saved from buying a home we couldn’t repair or maintain. We would have been stuck in an unlivable house with two kids and no means to fix it. It would have been a true money pit — minus the money part. Burnt toast indeed.
Then, there were the times when a setback pushed us toward something unexpected. Getting my credit cards canceled forced me to start living within my means and jump-started my debt-free journey of paying off $74,000 in two years. Job losses led to career changes and new opportunities. Rejections for financing brought us more suitable cars and homes.
Embracing the Burnt Toast Theory
Of course, there are moments I may not know what I was saved from — if anything. Those times stuck in traffic with Mom … were we saved from something horrible? A perfect job opportunity a few months ago that inexplicably fell through at the last minute … was something lurking beneath the surface?
We don’t know what we don’t know, but embracing this theory helps us reframe moments that don’t go our way. Even during tragedy, pain, loss or crisis — when it’s a struggle to see the good in a situation.
The burnt toast theory is not a new concept. And you may call it something else — fate, luck, serendipity, saving grace, God closing a door and opening a window, the universe doing its thing, etc. But the theory reminds us that there will always be things beyond our control. We can respond with anger, annoyance, impatience, anxiety, fear or panic. Or we can trust that we’re being saved from or brought to something else.
The next time you experience a disappointment or delay — waiting in a long line, getting stood up on a date or a job rejection — pause, breathe and ask, could this “burn toast” be saving me from something? Bringing me toward something? You may not know immediately, and you may never know, but assume the answer is yes and move forward with acceptance, resilience and peace.