Cemented in Flexibility

I made more mistakes this year than I planned on.

plan bI 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.

Good grief…

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!

6 Replies to “Cemented in Flexibility”

  1. Excellent! This really spoke to me and was exactly what I needed to hear. Clarified what God has been speaking to me in other ways. I’m looking forward to reading your memoirs. God bless you.


  2. Plan B is just plan A in disguise. It’s like sailing, I’m working my way to the mark in the race of life, my course is set I’m on the right tack when here it comes, a wind shift. If l stay the course I will be heading straight into the wind which will push me backwards therefore I must bear off, change my course by five degrees and keep moving. My goal (or more precisely Father Gods goal for me) is still the same, to round the mark, it’s just going to take me a little longer on this tack.


  3. Hey Pastor Barney, I was getting some digital organizing done and stumbled back upon your blog.

    You know what’s funny about being a 30-something now is that I feel my generation was well prepped for the so-called “mid-life crisis” that we heard so much about. People don’t really use that phrase anymore – probably because of the whole idea that “30 is the new 20” and “60 is the new 30” and so on. So even with New Year’s resolutions, there isn’t the same weight of responsibility to actually “accomplish” or “re-solve” anything because time seems to always be on our side.

    When I sit around and muse with the guys, there never really seems to be a “Plan A” with us. It’s always a somewhat apathetic Plan B, C or whatever happens. It would actually be nice to set hard goals and allow the pain of having not actually achieved them. Is that weird to say??

    As I reflect back on this year (and previous years), sure, there are some things I wish I could have accomplished and some other weird, unforeseen things that messed with my Plan A. But, I think what is more burdensome (with a young old guy like me) is that all the years are starting to stack up and I don’t really know how to make sense of past mistakes and pains. Like, if I just examine 2015, there were 2 or 3 things that I regret as far as friendships, or treating someone a certain way, or selfishness. But by 2020, I’ll have 2 or 3 little things multiplied by 5 years…and a regretful sense that I wasted those times or failed those moments. Can retrospect be a curse?

    I think maybe we need to grab coffee in the Mission next time I’m in SF and muse some more…!


    “God is always working to make His children aware of a dream that remains alive beneath the rubble of every shattered dream, a new dream that when realized will release a new song, sung with tears, till God wipes them away and we sing with nothing but joy in our hearts.” – Larry Crabb


    1. Dennis,

      Yeah, we have to have dreams before they can shatter. They don’t always, but often they do. If they do, then we can get to the dream underneath, the better dream. I know that has happened to me a number of times over the years. But if I didn’t have a hope or aspiration in the first place I would never have gotten off the couch.

      Once when dealing with a number of humiliating shattered dreams I came to the conclusion that the way to “cross” the divide between humiliation into humility is death. We used to talk about the “death of a vision,” but I think of it more as my death to that vision, even a good vision. It’s me who dies in order to embrace the resurrected me. Spoiler Alert: You have to die to experience resurrection!

      Let’s have coffee for sure!


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