"Many plans are in a man's heart, but the purpose of the LORD will prevail." Proverbs 19:21.
I'm a perfectionist. When I put my hair in a bun (like in the picture above) it takes me nearly 30 tries to get it to my liking- every loose strand and bump means I have to start over. I'm a planner, too. If you asked me what my life would look like at some random date in the future, I would have a very detailed answer for you, down to the city I want to be in and the names of my future dogs. I have the tendency to map out the coming years of my life well in advance, often with a color coded spreadsheet, Google Calendar and Pinterest boards. I find planning to be very comforting, and often fun (especially if you have a cute agenda). However, I am also a Christian, who is learning to take the study of God's word much more to heart especially in the past few months. If you're anything like me, having grown up in Church or experiencing any exposure to Christianity, you have probably heard some iconic verse or phrase similar to the verse above from Proverbs. These "let go and let God" quotes can be comforting to believers in hard times, but as a self confessed planner and perfectionist, nothing is more terrifying to me than handing over the reigns of my life and my future.
When things do not go according to my plan, I struggle to pull my act together, mask my disappointment, buck up and find another way forward. In job interviews, this is always admittedly my biggest "weakness" to share with employers. Even when I have to change plans last minute, or when things happen spontaneously, I still try to maintain my control over every detail. I tend to find a lot of comfort in knowing what is next and being able to plan for it. But If there's one thing that this pandemic has made me realize- it's that I'm not in control, and I never have been. And that is good news.
As the pandemic took its footing in the United States and began to spread rapidly, it seemed like every carefully thought out plan I had made vanished into thin air. No longer was the remainder of my sophomore year on campus- sorority events, my on-campus job, beloved campus traditions, the rest of the year in my apartment- all of these things and more disappeared in the blink of an eye. Thoughtfully written deadlines in colorful pen for projects and papers had to be scratched out. Study abroad was cancelled, and I no longer had an amazing trip to plan. These were all tough blows, though I am so lucky to be in good health and economically afloat, as even in universally hard times, privilege still holds strong. In addition to processing these feelings of disappointment and changes, it seems as though each day (especially social media) brings relentless amounts bad news and heartache, as the tragic, racist murder of Ahmaud Arbery took the forefront of America's attention and broke my heart. I know I do not stand alone in experiencing disappointment and anxiety surrounding the rapid, drastic changes to our lives and our futures, and the sadness and grief that has taken ahold of our world.
Perhaps the most eye-opening result of these changes and cancellations was the sudden realization that the aforementioned verses and biblical encouragements weren't just Sunday school cliches. We all have our responsibilities as people, as family members, friends, as Christians (if that applies to you). We are called to love others, to practice humility, to help the impoverished and vulnerable. We are called to exercise our right to vote, to utilize our God given talents for good. These are things we must do, but our path to the future we get to experience is not ours to chart and plan. Accepting that God is in control and is working for good in each of our lives isn't the same thing as throwing our hands up, sitting at home, and waiting for God to accomplish things for us and tell us directly where and who we are meant to be. It's a powerful decision to humble yourself in realization that God's plan for you is the path you are meant to follow, and involves a great amount of work, too.
What we have the urge to control in our lives tells us a lot about ourselves. Control shows us our fear, our hopes, our innermost thoughts and desires. But the truth is, we don't need that control in our lives, we simply are made to crave it. So, what have I done in the absence of this control, and how have I started to yearn for the goodness in God's plan that is so much greater than my own?
The Lord says in Luke 9:23, "“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." I've started and re-started over again this painstaking process of denying myself, my desire to control everything, and following Him. I have chosen to be more intentional with allowing myself to listen more closely to God's voice. For me, this has meant committing to engaging with my church community online, when it would be easy to sleep and blame my lack of involvement on the physical space I'm in. I have started to be more intentional with practicing gratitude, to not center my focus on the things I have lost, but to express thanks for the blessings that remain through every season.
The next way I've embraced this realization has been being still. The Lord calls His children to be still, to know He is good, that He is able and ever present with us. It has been a painful realization in this season of life that I tend to doubt the Lord's goodness in His providence for my life. Doubt is normal, and it often draws us closer to Him in new ways, and as Christians we have to experience these struggles. There is no one-step fix to my need for control and perfectionism, it is a daily choice that I will make for the rest of my life. I must decide that if I believe that the Lord has plans to prosper and not to harm, plans to give hope and a future, that my life will look different. I can plan my life and work towards my goals, while recognizing that things will change, and that these turns may in fact provide deeper satisfaction and be in accordance with God's will for my life.
Finally, one of the most important things we must do is recognize our struggles as real. The Lord does not promise a life without pain on this broken earth, even when we follow his path. Our struggles can be our platform to help others, our way of empathizing. It's also important to note that while struggle is normal, you shouldn't suffer alone. Counseling and community are tools that God has given us to manage our pain and find our way through our suffering. While social distancing poses challenges for these two tools, online counseling and technology have made the alternative solutions more helpful and accessible.
We will find our way out of this mess together, though what that looks like is unknown to us. If you are looking for a loving community to embrace you- your local church is a great place to start, as well as online communities like She Reads Truth. Thank you for reading this post, which is something more personal and close to my heart than what I've posted in the past few days. If you haven't already, subscribe to my blog and/or become a member to be notified of my new posts.