“Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise, you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.” –James 4:13-16
I’m a planner. Hardcore. I was that child, who at the ripe age of eight years old, had not only the next 30 years of my life planned out, but I also knew what I was going to name my 15 children and had concocted a fool-proof strategy for changing the world. I was that child who longed for that question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And when it happened, I would rub my palms together, and begin the monologue. “WELL. Let me tell you.”
Ironically, at 27 not many people ask me what I want to be when I grow up. The most common question I get from people is, “What are you doing next?” To be honest, I’m finding that question hard enough to answer, let alone the rest of my life. I do have a plan for what I am going to do next, and I am fundraising for that position. However, I have also become keenly aware that the best-made plans, made by yours truly, should never be set in stone. I have discovered that it’s a dangerous thing to declare that this or that will happen this or that way. Mainly, because God can’t be put into an equation. Please allow me to explain.
When I gave my life to Jesus at nine years old, I had no idea what that would mean. I could not foresee the moments ahead, and that’s a good thing. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t get married at 19 like I had planned. I also didn’t plan for NASA to shut down their space program (at least for humans to travel to space), but my dream of being an astronaut was more like a pipe dream anyway. I did know that I would be a missionary, but starting a church? I still see that as a crazy plot twist to my story. Did I ever imagine myself graduating from college with a degree in Spanish? No way…at least not JUST Spanish…that’s lame…in fact (long story for another day), I tried as hard as I could to NOT graduate with a degree in Spanish, and it still happened. At eight years old, did I expect to someday have my heart broken? Did I plan on getting sick? Did I anticipate developing a passion for victims of human trafficking? Not at all…but it happened.
I am thankful that at eight years old, I didn’t know some of the battles that I would face. I am even thankful that I could not have foreseen some of the greatest victories that I would experience…because at eight years old, there is no way I would have been able to handle or understand them. I didn’t understand that some of life’s greatest joys come from pain, some of life’s greatest lessons are learned in the fire, and some of life’s best moments lie in the unexpected and the unanticipated. Life has a way of changing at a moment’s notice, plans have a way of being interrupted, and dreams have a way of shattering all over the floor. That’s not to say that life is all heartache and pain, or that having shattered dreams is always a bad thing; it is only to say that life never turns out the way you plan it, and I’ve learned that’s ok.
Learning to respond to the nudges and promptings of the Spirit is a life-long process I think. I can hear Aslan’s voice in the Chronicles of Narnia saying gently, “Things never happen the same way twice, dear one.” Sometimes God screams His will, and other times He speaks through a gentle whisper. He has also been known to give us a choice. I have experienced all three…and others still. Sometimes God gives plenty of warning, downloading the sermons for three weeks in advance. Other times He wakes us up in the middle of the night before and draws us in. Sometimes I have known where I would be for years, other times I walk forward trusting that today I am where I am supposed to be. It’s like I am living my own unique version of Pilgrim’s Progress; I knew I was beginning a great adventure when I gave my heart to Jesus at nine years old. It has, however, looked nothing like what I thought.
I heard it said once that God does not give us a map of our future, because He wants to BE our navigational system. God knows it all; He knows everything that will happen to us. Though we are surprised by the curve balls along the way, God is not surprised by anything. And I am discovering that my fragile heart has not changed much from the eight-year-old me. I would not be able to handle a snapshot of the future if God were to show it to me. I am finding that the obedience God has called me to live out today is difficult enough by itself, so I focus on that. The planner in me wants to scream out sometimes; the doubter in me wants to question it all; the skeptic in me longs to demand an answer. However, the question God asks me in return is so convicting, “Do you trust Me?”
So what’s the lesson here? I would say it is this: this journey of following Jesus is wild; full of twists and turns and straight paths. However, in the midst of it all, hold your dreams and your plans loosely in your hands. “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” You have no idea. Be cautious about even answering that question. “What are you doing next?” Great question. This is how I answer: “The plan is _____________, but only if the Lord wills it. I follow Jesus, not my plans, and I trust Him to guide me down the best way.”
If the Lord wills: probably one of the most honest phrases we could ever learn to say. Probably one of the most important phrases we could ever learn to say. Perhaps an even better answer would be, “Well today He has asked me to do _______________. I trust He will tell me tomorrow what I am supposed to do tomorrow.” What a terrifying way to live. What an exciting way to live! Do it.