Having a medically-complicated kiddo has meant trick-or-treating in the halls of the cardiac unit of the children’s hospital, decorating Christmas trees at the nurses' station, watching Fourth of July fireworks from a conference room on the 22nd floor, and celebrating my daughter’s sweet sixteen in the hospital cafeteria. So many birthdays, holidays, work days, school days have been derailed by an unexpected hospitalization or complication, I should be used to it — expert even at dealing with disrupted, dismantled, best-laid-plans. Yet so often throughout the years I have approached these times as days gone wrong — good plans knocked out, life stalled. Quite frankly, the interruption doesn’t even need to be on the scale of a medical crisis. A minivan loaded with treats for a school party breaking down a mile away from the building can send me and my day reeling, kicking off anxiety, frustration, and inner railings against how this was not part of the plan. And when the curve-ball appears to thwart work I believe is part of my calling, the experience can be confusing and discouraging on a whole other level. It has definitely been one of my struggles. Maybe I am not alone.
Proverbs 16:9 comes to mind: “The heart of man plans his way, / but the Lord establishes his steps.” Apart from its affirmation of God’s sovereignty, this verse is telling in another way, locating the heart — that seat of hopes and desires — as the place where our plans originate. I think this is often a big part of what lies beneath complaints against a day “gone wrong.” Even when we believe God has a plan in every way better than our own, even when we know he is able to redeem our worst circumstances, we still love our plans, our hopes, our dreams. While there’s nothing wrong with having plans, hopes, and dreams — certainly many of those originate from the One who made and uniquely gifted us — we can struggle to accept that any veer in the road is or was “meant to be.” For me, my own resistance manifests as prayerful wrangling with God, interspersed with deep dives into the plentiful world of self-help articles on time management. It manifests as a death grip on my hopes, plans, and minutes of my day: healthy children, career goals met, and cookies delivered on time.
For years, part of the bedtime routine with my daughters was to pray Psalm 139 with them, to assure them nightly that God goes before and behind them. That he has his hand upon them. That no matter what they or the world think about their bodies and abilities, they are fearfully and wonderfully made. We have always prayed the whole psalm, but of course certain verses resonate more than others at different seasons and moments in life. So it was a bedtime during one of those life “interruptions,” a time when I was wrestling with releasing the plethora of plans big and small that were falling by the wayside that verse 16 hit me with a new kind of clarity: “all the days ordained for me were written in your book / before one of them came to be.” Suddenly, it was as if God was saying these disruptions and surprises — that ranged from annoying to deeply painful — these days knocked from my agenda were not derailed days at all but were, in fact, the days exactly ordained for me. From the womb he has known me and what was headed my way, and he’s just not at all surprised. Without question, God’s original perfect plan did not intend for broken down cars and suffering children. In fact, it would be wise to remember that we are the actual derailers of that original plan. Still, God’s intention to make David king was not derailed by Saul. And how much humility and reliance on God was cultivated in the young king-to-be while he sheltered in caves outside the city he loved? A day may not go as I intended, but this unquestionably was the day intended for me. Sitting in the truth of that, I can feel my fingers loosening.
These are by no means new concepts — God’s sovereignty, his omniscience, and his intention for good in each of our lives, even down to the minutes of our days. Releasing that grip, however, is less of a fait accompli than a daily engagement of my heart and will with the infinitely better will and heart of God. To that end, I have surprisingly found the simplest practice suggested years ago at the wedding of dear friends to be the most helpful. The father of the groom — a quiet, faithful man, and also a pastor — shared that each morning before he starts his day, he sits on the edge of his bed and holds his hands out and open before the Lord in wordless prayer. I was struck by how powerful it can be to release one’s plans to God before even one of them has been embarked upon.
The wordlessness of this prayer, however, is particularly helpful to me. I am a person who loves words, loves books and articles, loves liturgies and psalms, loves long conversations with friends — and God is the best of them. However, when I pray (and we should and I do), it is still being articulated through the grid of my desires and perceived needs, even as I try to submit all my plans to the Father’s will. Instead, this silent gesture is one of both surrender and receptivity. Of relinquishing the day — one’s very self — to the Lord. Of being ready to receive whatever will come, along with Jesus’s gentle provision of all we will need to face it, engage with it, follow him through it.
It is a means of accessing discernment when trying to weigh whether we set aside a project to answer a phone call from a friend, or when to say no to a disruption or even an opportunity in order to not allow the urgent to overcome the important. It can be a release from nagging guilt when we feel we are behind, overwhelmed, and letting everybody down. It has become for me a defense, an action against mounting anxiety and pressure. This practice — more than just a signal of obedience — is a means of receiving the peace that transcends understanding. In some ways I have found that routinely, regularly, and bodily releasing the “plan”—the trip to the grocery store or a family vacation or whatever I thought the day should hold or even my indecision about what it should—cultivates an ability to trust when the seemingly “derailed” plan carries more heartache: the longed-for spouse or child who never arrives, the professional aspirations that go unrealized, even ministry goals that feel like they have paltry results.
So it is a posture I have tried daily to adopt — in the morning and often at trying moments in my day — stuck in traffic or anxiously awaiting the results of a child’s echocardiogram. I open my hands, relinquish my plans, say with my body, my very self, what is sometimes still so hard to say with my mouth: This is the day the Lord has made, let me trust that he will establish my steps through it. This is exactly the intended day, the day ordained for me. Let me rejoice and be glad in it.
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