I made more mistakes this year than I planned on.
I take into account a “margin of error” when on the precipice of a new year. It took me decades to come to this, since in my youth I assumed I could ace every test that God gave me and go undefeated in every battle and then by January’s end most of my resolutions for the year were caput. For emotional survival’s sake I’ve become an avowed “Imperfectionist”! I shoot for the moon but if I hit the trees I’m glad to have gotten off the ground at all.
One of the downsides of resolution making is the predicament it puts me in when adjustments (both major and minor ones) have to be made for circumstances out of my control. Lack of foreknowledge is a bummer when trying to make plans for the coming year.
The palate adjustment…
You can’t really plan for the unexpected, since by definition, you don’t expect it. We make our plans, try to live as responsibly as we can, and trust God to do what he does. Nevertheless, stuff happens in our fallen world inside and around our flawed selves that we couldn’t have predicted. There’s the matter of the free-will experiment in which we’re engaged where we’re permitted to hurt ourselves and one another if we choose to. And then there’s the factor of the clear and present danger of the dark spiritual world, relentless in its hate for us and the God who loves us. We make plans, some of which are thwarted, others were foolish and were thus doomed from the start. Regardless of the cause, we have to learn to make adjustments on the fly. Life isn’t nearly as predictable as we would wish, so detours are a more regular occurrence than we planned when we embarked on the trip. So we have to learn to expect the unexpected, bring our fears to God and adapt to what happens.
On a very tiny level, making adjustments on the fly is something we all do all the time. You’re driving to work, but your regular route is jammed with traffic, so you take a quick exit and find your way on surface streets to get to work on time. Your usual sales pitch isn’t working with a certain prospective client, so in order to convince them that they do need what you’re selling, you change your pitch – you adapt on the fly. All morning you could taste the burrito you were going to savor at lunchtime at your favorite Taqueria near your office, and when you get there they’re closed for renovations! For about two minutes you stand in front of the restaurant wondering if life is still worth living, or maybe you should break in there and make your own burrito with extra cheese. Eventually you make the palate adjustment to Chinese.
Cemented in flexibility…
Typically, Pharisees, the ones with the most hard-shelled spirituality are not very willing to modify their ideas on the fly. They tend to be more brittle than flexible in their faith. This inflexibility has a name. It’s uh, umm… oh yeah; it’s called “Religion!” And since the Pharisees are the same “yesterday, today, and forever,” we should all be on the lookout for this tendency to dig our heels in and refuse to bend.
They had their orders – as they understood them – and that was it! They even had most of them memorized, categorized, simonized. They knew what they knew and weren’t planning on learning anything new about what they knew. They were adamant about what God required, what the Messiah was going to look like, and where they would rate with him when he arrived. Jesus blew the doors off their preconceived notions when he didn’t think, speak, or act like a good little Messiah was supposed to. Most of them just couldn’t adjust, and what’s more they were proud of it.
Do you expect God to act like a personal assistant to keep everything on schedule and on an even keel? You might not express it that way, but your rush to hold him in contempt when Plan A is upset, delayed, or becomes altogether defunct, is pretty telling. To be disappointed – even temporarily – by setbacks is human, and leads us into the process of grieving the plans we had that are now in full rigor. But when the Plan A ship has sailed we are advised to find another vessel, preferably the one God had in mind all along. It’s called making adjustments.
I don’t think we can make a smooth transition to a new course without grieving the loss of the old one. We adjust to a new home or a new job or a new ministry assignment best when we grieve losing the former one. Jesus, “the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…” has walked me through some major transitions in my life by first helping me grieve the old and accept the new. When we adequately grieve our losses, give them an appropriate memorial, say a proper farewell to our former dreams; we’re free to dream again.
Making smooth adjustments on the fly is also a trust thing. When everything is static and predictable there’s no need to make adjustments and we don’t really have to trust God much. It’s not faith if we know what to expect. But when we’re placed in an unfamiliar situation, we’re forced to trust. David, whose life became frequently upended and reinvented is a good example of a guy who trusted God’s ability to implement Plan B. Minding his own business on his father’s sheep ranch he was told to be king, when trying to be king his predecessor incessantly hunted him with drawn sword, and then his very own son tried to depose him from his throne. No wonder his musical diary is so full of prayers like this one: “In you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.”
Ever since our first parents spit in his face and decided to go with the devil, God has had a lot of experience with Plan B. Of course he has the distinct advantage of always knowing beforehand that a detour is up ahead. Because we don’t possess this same capability, things come to us as surprises. Therefore, it’s to our advantage to keep in mind that though we’re shocked by setbacks and inconvenient detours, no such surprise is his, and we can rest assured that he’s ready to launch Plan B, C, D, or beyond, as a way out or a way through our unexpected circumstances.
“We know he works in all things for the good of those who love him.” I’m eased to know that he knows what I don’t know, knows a way to a different place that I don’t even know about, and knows how to get there! Know what I mean?
Happy New Year!
PS – My hard and fast plan for 2016 is to finally publish the memoir I’ve written – unless, of course, I don’t. In that case, I’ll go to Plan B and do it later. Coming to a bookstore near you!