What’s the Plan? – Raised Catholic episode 74

The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.

Today is episode 74: What’s the Plan?

Hi friends. Well, this is the time of year when a lot of young people are considering their next steps.  If you are or have a high school or college graduate, you know they’re likely fielding quite a lot of questions from well-meaning adults about their plans for the future: college or grad school or the workforce or the military, and even if they do have a ready answer for that frequently asked question, the reality is that no one really fully knows that answer.

As it says in the book of Proverbs, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Just a few chapters later, the message is even more blunt: Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. You could, I guess, summarize it with that old saying, “we plan, God laughs.”

We’ve all learned in this last span of time the value and necessity of the pivot and of adaptation, but in today’s episode we’ll talk about planning with a spiritual lens, and specifically how to live in a more open-handed manner that embraces and trusts in God’s best plans for us.

There are lots of places in scripture that indicate that God does have very good plans for us, and for most of my life, I thought that meant that it was my job to find that plan and stick to that plan that God made for me in love but was also somehow hiding from me like the most twisted kind of scavenger hunt? Anyway, I felt that that if I worked hard enough to find the path, but then fell off of it, like if I made a wrong decision about a job or a location, or if I became undisciplined about moving forward in the good stuff God had planned for me, then I’d just be out of luck, I guess, lost, and just running out the clock in this “less-than” life that I was now living. Oh, friend, I think so differently about all that now. For one thing, I no longer believe that God is cruel, hiding the best stuff from His kids and daring us to find it throughout our lives, but also, I know now that God does meet us wherever we are. And I know, as the scripture says, that God’s ways really are higher and better than mine. It’s not my job to find and live out “the plan”, it’s my job to co-create with God and sometimes surrender to God’s plan in trust, even when it’s hard, even in the wilderness, but that’s another episode, friend.

Maybe you’re like me and you always want to know the plan.  You want to know what comes next and how to prepare for it and how long this part will be, a sprint or a marathon. You gather in the details and the facts and your research and obsess over your choices, praying that you get it “right”. Well, as it turns out, this is actually called hypervigilance, and it’s been with me from way back – I tend to scan the future with all of its possibilities and do everything I can to make not only a way but the best way. Maybe you can identify with that tendency, especially if you are a parent of the ‘helicopter’ or ‘snowplow’ variety. But I’ve learned over time that there is no such thing as an accurate scan or read of the future, no way for even the most diligent human among us to account for every variable and circumstance. We’re just people, friend. We simply do not have all of the information that we would need to make a complete plan for a life, though many of us do try. We lay out the hurdles: graduation, job, marriage, house, family, and we think that if we just jump over each one at exactly the right time, that this will equal our best life. To all of those jumpers, I would gently say, be careful, friend. As the poet Robert Burns said in his ode to a mouse whose carefully made home he had just destroyed:

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

          Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

          For promis’d joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!

The present only toucheth thee:

But Och! I backward cast my e’e,

          On prospects drear!

An’ forward tho’ I canna see,

          I guess an’ fear!

The best laid plans of mice and men – they do tend to go awry, don’t they, friend? And we, unlike mice, bear regret when we look back and worry when we look forward. But the good news is that God makes His best drawings with crooked lines. The detours from our carefully made plans are the ways in which we learn and grow into the very best of what God –  who knows everything and loves us more than we know – actually does have planned for us.

Here’s a fun experiment that might reinforce what I mean here. At the next party you attend, ask anyone over the age of, say, 25 what they thought they’d be when they grew up. Ask them what they went to school for. Ask them about the plans of their younger selves and then watch them laugh. Ask anyone over the age of 40 if their lives had rolled out just as they had expected. Are they working in the field they studied in school? Is their relationship and family status what they planned or predicted? Do they live now in a place or manner they’d thought as they started out? You may find that the happiest ones at the party are the ones with the most diversions from the path. They certainly have the best stories.

We don’t get to see the whole plan, friend and the truth is that we couldn’t handle it if we did. And along the way, God does use the things we learn, our experiences and encounters, to place us, physically, emotionally, and spiritually in the spaces, with the people, doing the work, that He planned for us all along, if we would just let Him steer us.  It’s crazy how it works out. After all, as it says in Isaiah, 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God’s view is just different; it’s higher, and it’s better. He sees the things we cannot in our present circumstances but also, He sees how it will all be woven together in time. And because He’s good, we can trust that He is using that wealth of information for our benefit. And anyway, as my therapist likes to remind me, we never ‘arrive’. There is no hurdle or end point or finish line that completes our journey until the day we go home to God. We’re always learning, always growing as we go. And it’s when we look back that we so often think, of course. Of course, it had to be like this for our good and the good of others and for the good plan God has for us. Have you ever thought to yourself in looking back on a hard season: “I’m actually so glad that it turned out this way?” I have.

My late mother would often make predictions about the future that were sometimes eerily, specifically correct like a modern Irish seer, and sometimes they were laughably wrong, but oh, I do have some stories, friend. Anyway, when she was sick and dying of cancer, I asked her what she thought my kids, who were then 12 and 14, would become. I won’t share her answers with you here, but let me just say that ten years later, I can see it, for both of them, each one coming to these realities in ways that I could never have imagined or planned, but which God maybe knew all along. They, like all of us, are still in process, never arriving but moving both in and toward what God intends in such a way that makes me shake my head at the bigness of God and also how personally He walks with each one of us. 

In this world which has been so disrupted on every front, we should know by now that there is no such thing as a perfect plan. We adjust, we pivot, we do the next right thing. And if you’re a control junkie like me, this might feel like loss, or like stress, believe me I know, but in the end, even the littlest bit of surrender we can muster can feel like the rest that we so desperately need. We can learn to consume our lives in the way it is given to us, in small bits, and rely on our very big God to sort out so much of what we thought was ours to plan and execute and manage.

I had a little picture of that concept this week as I admired the big bouquet of flowers that my daughter gave me for Mother’s Day. There were a variety of blooms in a range of all of my favorite colors, but I was finding that I couldn’t see each flower in the vase no matter which way I arranged them.  One day, I just took the bouquet apart, spreading them out over several vessels in the house. A white hydrangea with a sprig of greenery in one, a few pale green pom poms paired with pink blossoms in another, and on and on. And I found I could enjoy them so much more that way, beautiful and manageable and small, in different spaces and places in the moments in which I encountered them naturally in time. Because moments are all we get, friends. We may want to gather it all in and work to make one big, impressive arrangement, take a picture of it and call it a life, but, friend, that is just not the way that life is lived. We live bit by bit, one step at a time.

So let’s hold our plans with more open hands, grateful and trusting that what God has for you and me, His beloved, is better than what we could have devised on our own. As it turns out, letting go of all of that control we never had in the first place is a great next step toward living a pretty beautiful life indeed. 

Thanks so much for listening today, friends.  If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com.  Thanks for sharing, rating, reviewing, and subscribing to this podcast as all of that helps more people to find us and I truly appreciate that, so thanks.  If you’d like to support Raised Catholic financially by throwing a few bucks my way, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with lots of resources about how to engage with this topic more deeply for yourself, so do check all of that out.  For now, let’s pray together.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.

Lord, as we make our way through our lives, help us to give our plans to you to hold, to sort out, and to speak into. It says so many places in your word that you will establish our plans and that you will give us the desires of our hearts but help us to cooperate with you in our planning and trust you in the ways in which it will all unfold.  Before we were born, you knew us and your plans for us are good. Help us walk with you, present in each day you give us as a gift. Give us a puddle of light at our feet so we will know where to step next, and help us to leave the heavy burden of the tomorrows to you.

In the name of Jesus and wrapped in the mantle of His Mother, Mary, we pray, amen.

Thanks so much for listening today, friend, and I’ll see you next time.

Show Notes

This week, we’re looking at planning with a spiritual lens, and about how to begin to accept or embrace a pivot or shift when life doesn’t go as we planned.

If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog.  If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com!

Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:

1. Edinburgh actor Sean Kane reads Burns’ To A Mouse in Edinburgh Central Library.

2. Podcast: The Next Right Thing, with Emily P. Freeman

3. Book: The Next Right Thing: A Simple Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions

4. Lyric Video: The Voyage, by Amanda Lindsey Cook

5. Lyric Video: Unanswered Prayers, by Garth Brooks 🙂

6. Practice: Sit at a beach, watch waves come in and go out, breathe, reflect on how this is how life comes to us, in moments

7. Practice: Break apart of a bunch of flowers and put them in small clusters in different parts of your home, enjoy them naturally as you meet them through your day, reflect on the reality of the beauty of life in small bits

8. Video: Ten Minute Breathing Meditation to help ground you in the day/moment you’re given

9. Song: The Detour, by FAITHFUL

10. Song: Brighter Day, by Kirk Franklin

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