When our plans go awry
Twice in as many weeks our day-to-day plans have been entirely disrupted by covid.
As it happens, not by us having covid– we continue to stay well; also our booster jab is scheduled for tomorrow. Not our daughters, but our granddaughters. Or more precisely, our granddaughters’ friends.
So there is a knock-on effect as our daughters seek to contain the risk of their elderly parents being infected by the highly-virulent delta variant running through the family.
So we keep our distance and change our plans – which for me is a great disappointment.
However, we realise that we live in a world in which plans, both major and minor, can so easily be disrupted. You will know the famous quote – probably apocryphal - from prime minister Harold Macmillan, on being asked which was his greatest challenge: “Events, dear boy. Events.”
And of course, he is right. Things happen. As we read in one of the earliest books of the New Testament, “You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.” (James 4:13) The knack is knowing how to respond to the unexpected, to ride the freak wave, the one we didn’t see coming – and not lose our balance.
The apostle Paul fully intended to make a personal visit to the church in Corinth. To be precise, two visits – on the way to Macedonia and on the way back. But for some reason, this didn’t happen.
And so the Corinthian Christians were miffed, to say to least; they accused this faithful servant of the Gospel of being fickle, unreliable.
Maybe the Message translation goes a little bit too far here but the aggrieved apostle writes “Are you now going to accuse me of flip-flopping with my promises because it didn’t work out? Do you think I talk out of both sides of my mouth—a glib yes one moment, a glib no the next?” (2 Corinthians 1:17f)
We need to plan ahead, of course: but we need to realise that plans can so easily change. But we live in a culture which values planning, even to every last minute. We prize busyness as shown by a packed diary – it gives us value.
Yesterday I received an email on how to run a ‘to-do diary” using three basic headings: timed engagements (like the funeral I am about to conduct this morning, at 9.15am), main tasks (which will take more than 45 minutes, hopefully excluding this blog) and quick actions (which should take less than half-an-hour).
The danger that keeping such a planning diary can so easily feed the illusion that we are in control. Moreover diary entries can prevent us from seizing unexpected opportunities – for the simple reason they are not in the diary. “I'm sorry. I have to be somewhere else.”
In other words we need to sit light to our plans, even to let God mess up our day, so-to-speak. But as blogger Christina Fox observes: “God uses these interruptions to change me to be more like Christ.”
For we need to know how Jesus operated, and be like him.
Clearly, as witnessed by the structure of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Jesus had an overall plan, a basic strategy, of starting in Galilee and aiming for Jerusalem, specifically the cross. And there was no time to waste, as he went from place to place proclaiming the Kingdom of God in word and deed. He was focussed, not least on the lost sheep of Israel.
But his day-by-day routine was remarkably relaxed; he seemed to ride events, to handle interruptions with aplomb. Often people came at him from all directions.
So he plans to take his exhausted disciples for a rest, away from the demands of the crowds. Except that the crowds followed him to the far side of the lake. And rather than send them away, he allowed them to dictate his schedule. So Mark tells us “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (Mark 6:34).
And so often Jesus welcomed interruptions, even interruptions to his interruptions. For example, the woman with a flow of blood who slowed him down en route to heal Jairus’ daughter. In the event, he was too late – he shouldn’t have allowed this “daughter of Abraham” to divert him. Except he raised the little girl from the dead anyway.
So going back to James, whom I quoted at the beginning of this blog: “Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15). Here we are talking about an underlying attitude of sitting light to our plans rather than blandly saying DV (Deus vult) after every statement of intent.
Of course we need to plan and naturally we may be upset if our plans are disrupted -and how often has this happened since the beginning of the pandemic? But it may even be that God is at work, even pulling the plug on some valued venture Or as likely as not, just life – the way things happen.
Either way, as disciples of Jesus we are not to be fazed when our plans are disrupted or even abandoned. What counts is not the plans we make for ourselves but the plans God has for us. So the prophet encourages the downcast exiles in faraway Babylon: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).
And that makes all the difference.