Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The problem with our plans

This last Sunday I was again blessed by seeing how God answers prayers. I am not sure what He did to work things out for my answer, but there have been several times in my life when things like this have happened. Times when I have worries or a question, and then the sermon at Church ends up being exactly what I needed to dispel my anxieties or answer my problems.  Like I said, I am not sure how God does things like that in an age when gifts such as prophecy and inspiration are gone; but somehow He does.

The sermon was about how basing our foundations on God alone will give us strength in hard times. Though not particularly about worrying, the sermon focused upon how we don’t possess a perfect understanding of every situation like God does, so we can easily lose sight of the fact that everything will work out for good, and this causes us to worry. But when we are firmly focused on God and His word, the troubles of this life can’t throw us off course. This sermon was the perfect reminder of truths I already knew, and the very encouragement I was needing. It reminded of something which I realized back during another time of distress in my life. “If the troubles of this life are always getting you down, then you are probably too focused on this life, and not focused enough on the next.”

How this message helped me
My first response to the sermon was that I really need to worry less. I feel sort of ashamed to admit that I sometimes worry. It shows a lack of trust in God. And normally I consider myself to be a person who rarely worries or complains about anything. I know that if I serve God that things will work out for the best in the end. I honestly worried very little when I had cancer because I knew it was God’s will and I was determined to find good things resulting from my situation. But the more I thought about it, I began to realize that I got more from this sermon than a reminder not to worry. Worrying is just one of the symptoms of a greater problem in my life. My problem is that I am a plan maker.

A little background story (okay quite a bit)
If someone of this world looked at me now,  they would see a single 23 year old guy with no career, college degree, money, or any other promising things going on for him. And they likely would suspect me to be just a bum with no ambitions or plans for my life. The truth is, despite the fact that I don’t seem to have anything going my way, I have long been an excessive plan-maker. For you to understand what I mean, I must tell you a little about myself and my history with making plans. I will begin my account with the spring or 2007. 

I was just about to graduate from high school with high honors.
I did very well in school, and in some subjects I was ranked in the top 1% of all high school students in the nation. More than that, I knew where I was going to college and what I would do. I wanted to go to a Bible college in Missouri for a few years to increase my understanding of God’s word. While there I hoped to find a decent job so that I could save up enough money to attend the prestigious Embry Riddle Aeronautical university in Arizona. I was so confident that all of my plans would work out… Boy was I in for some life lessons.

Just a month before I graduated high school, problems starting sprouting up in my plans. My older brother William who was already attending and working at the same Bible college in Missouri was beginning to face some trials. He had recently written a note on facebook about how immodesty was becoming a big problem among the college students. It was written in a loving way to educate and encourage students to be more honoring to God and each other in how they dress, but it created an uproar against him. Many students hated him for it, and the college faculty told him that if he didn’t delete the note, then he would be fired. Well he didn’t, and so he was fired. My brothers Michael and William decided not to return to the college that fall, and I decided that I shouldn’t go either. It was now May, and the first part of my plans had collapsed. I was pretty discouraged because it was already too late in the year to apply at any regular college. So I improvised my plans a little and decided I would go to a community college for the next year. There I could gain general credits to transfer towards another degree, and I could still keep my plan of saving money to go to the school in Arizona.

A year passed and I was getting anxious to leave Kansas and head to Arizona. Unfortunately the college I wanted to attend was very expensive. I was offered over $21,000 a year in financial aid, but I still couldn’t afford it. Realizing that there was no way I could go to Arizona - I unwillingly scrapped my plans, and at the last minute decided to move to Denver with my brother Michael where I would go to a small Bible college. I couldn’t stand the thought of spending another year in  Kansas doing nothing, so I thought Denver would be a fun intermission while I worked on another plan. There I would spend the next two years of my life. It would take far too long for me to explain what all hardships I encountered there, but let me just say that my time in Denver still remains perhaps the hardest time of my life. In August of 2010 I moved back home to Kansas with barely enough money to make the trip. I felt so tired and thinly-stretched, “like butter scraped over too much bread”. It was nice to be back home where I could recover and relax. Being the plan maker that I was, I had already come up with several different plans for attending colleges in Kansas; but those plans all quickly dissolved as I realized that they weren’t for me. So I started to reconsider a discarded plan from long ago which involved going to a Bible college in Idaho. Idaho was one of the three states in the U.S. which I thought would be nice to live in someday (The other two being Minnesota and Maine). While working on finding a job so that I might save money for moving to Idaho, I also made use of my time by returning to take more classes at the same community college I had years before. This gave me mixed emotions, as I enjoyed the reminders of a more lighthearted time in my life, but also was left feeling like I had accomplished nothing over the last three years. Sure I knew that I was a better and stronger person. I had been through a lot and had picked up valuable experiences and wisdom. But It still hurt to consider that while all my class mates from high school were about to graduate from college, I had not even really started working on a degree. On paper, I - the one who once had such promise, and such fireproof plans - had nothing to show for myself. This feeling would grow when I realized that I would not be able to afford moving to Idaho due to the fact that I was only making near minimum wage at a fast food restaurant just like I had been doing ever since 16. And there was no way such a job could save the amount I needed for moving to Idaho. So I again started making plans. I needed a better paying job before I could think about going to a Bible college again. And to get a better paying job, I would need to go to school for a career. As an avid nature lover, I decided that a career in forestry would be a good fit for me. Not long after that, I decided to move to northern Minnesota where I would begin working toward a forestry degree. If you are interested, you can go back in my blog archives to read more about that point in my life, but the short version is that I was diagnosed with cancer only a few months before moving to Minnesota, and my plans again had to change. So I eagerly waited while I finished my treatments, and was finally able to move to Minnesota almost a year after I had originally planned. I was so confident that this time things were finally going to work out. My plans seemed so perfect and clear! It felt like everything I had gone through before was just God leading me to this point. I finally had found where I wanted to be in every way. But… even though my current situation and the plans I had for my future seemed like they were meant to be, that was not at all the case.

The end of my plans
It was difficult to find a good job when I moved, and after finally finding one, I had to choose between keeping the good job or going to school in the fall like I had planned. I chose the job, which unfortunately started to slow down dramatically just a few weeks after the fall semester began. And then about the same time as my hours started being cut to nearly nothing, I learned that my medical insurance wouldn’t cover the doctors visits and CT scans I recently had. I knew God could get me through anything, but it was discouraging to begin needing more money just as I began making less. With all these recent developments, I would have been very upset that I had skipped school for a job that would fissile out; but I had began to realize that a career in forestry was not a very good choice for someone like me. I hate missing any Church services; and since forestry jobs are rare, it is unlikely that I could find a job in a town with a faithful congregation of believers. Along with my plans for school and a career, I was beginning to realize that all the other plans I had made for my life were collapsing too. I felt so discouraged and lost about what I was going to do with my life! I can’t explain how much it hurt to see only dead-end plans when I looked backwards; and to see absolutely nothing at all when I tried to look forward. Yes, I still knew that God was in control, and that things would work out in the end; but that didn’t bring me any relief. My discouragement wasn’t because I didn’t trust that God would work things out for good. I was discouraged because I couldn’t see how things could work out the way I wanted them to and the way I had planned. This time more than ever before my plans had seemed so perfect, and yet they were falling apart like all my other plans had before them. And when they collapsed I lost my confidence and my cheer. I tried to shrug it all off and think optimistically, but I knew that wouldn’t work for long. I still wasn’t letting go of my plans like I should. I was just faking optimism, and telling myself that maybe my plans would still work out after all. I knew I needed to let go, but it felt like I couldn’t since I saw nothing else to grab hold of. And then came Sunday with the very sermon that I needed to hear. With the lesson and reminder from the sermon, I was finally able to let go of my plans.

Conclusion
Right now I still don’t know where I will go, or what I will do. I have no plans, but that is okay. Yes it is good to be someone who plans for the future; but we should never hold on to our plans so tightly that it feels like we lose everything when our plans fail. God is the perfect plan-maker; and though we can’t always see or understand them, His are the only plans that really matter, and they will never fail! All we can do to affect them is to make sure we are living for Him, so that we will be part of His winning plan.
Smile

Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’”
-James 4:13-15