Spiritual Growth

Holding Plans with Open Hands

A box of pink polka dot paper products sits in my guestroom closet alongside a bag of Mickey Mouse ears. Matching Etsy printables remain unopened in an email inbox folder. A carefully curated note is bookmarked on my iPhone, ready to have items checked off. But with new restrictions coming out each day because of the coronavirus, it is unlikely that my dream “Oh Twodles” birthday party for my daughter will take place.

I know there are much more serious concerns around this global pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people are sick and many are dying. Healthcare professionals and systems are overwhelmed. Workers are losing their jobs. Yet even though the worst effects of COVID-19 have yet to enter our home, I’m still humbled by how our plans so easily fall apart. Weddings are reduced to the minimum guest restrictions. Long-awaited concerts are moved to an Instagram story. Birthday parties are postponed or even cancelled.

While I pray for the infected patients and healthcare professionals who are facing this pandemic head-on, I’ve also allowed myself to grieve plans. I can’t snuggle the newborn baby of a good friend. I can’t watch the vows of my cousin and his new wife. I won’t get to see my daughter dressed in her Minnie Mouse outfit running around the backyard with her friends. God knows that every person is experiencing differing levels of grief in this crisis, and he is using each of our situations to teach us something about ourselves and about himself.

God knows that every person is experiencing differing levels of grief in this crisis, and he is using each of our situations to teach us something about ourselves and about himself.

I am not in control

For me, I am humbled by this pandemic and reminded that I am not ruler over my life or my family’s life. As my color-coordinated Google calendar is being reduced to a minimum, I remember that I must always hold my plans with open hands. I’ve been planning my daughter’s big second birthday party for months (the Pinterest board started as soon as her first birthday party was over), but it will be delayed, if it even happens. As a Type-A planner, I have long struggled with finding my comfort and confidence in my calendar and to-do lists. Yet this rare global pandemic has shown me that no matter how good of a planner I am, I am not in control.

James gives us a warning about making plans, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (4:13-15).

James isn’t telling us not to make plans, but to avoid idolizing those plans to the point of relying on them instead of God.

James isn’t telling us not to make plans, but to avoid idolizing those plans to the point of relying on them instead of God. I have put my own ability to plan over my trust in God’s perfect plan. Yet every day when I look at my calendar and wonder if those plans for next month, or this summer, or even towards the end of the year will have to change, I am reminded that my hope is not in these plans, but in the sovereignty of God.

God reigns over the earth

Solomon reminds us that, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).

I can plan for a vacation in May and a conference in June. I can plan for our newborn baby’s arrival in September and family trip in November. I can make many, many plans, but I must make them humbly, knowing that it is not by my will but God’s will that these plans will come to fruition.

While that reality has humbled me and pointed to the weakness in my own ability to control my situation, it has always brought me hope to remember God’s power and goodness in the midst of this crisis. While world leaders meet on a video chat to develop strategies and policies, it is God who reigns over all the earth.

“Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing?” the psalmist asks (Psalm 2:1). “For the Lord, the Most High, is awe-inspiring, a great King over the whole earth” (Psalm 47:2).

We don’t have a cure or a vaccine, but God who designed the universe knows the exact molecular composition of this virus. Hospitals run short on ventilators, but God is the very giver and breath of life. Governments vote on economic stimulus packages, but all creation belongs to our God. Our hope is not in government or scientists or doctors but in God almighty. He alone can save.

Our hope is not in government or scientists or doctors but in God almighty. He alone can save.

We are reminded during this crisis that only God can provide for our needs, both physical and spiritual. “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:15-16).

God’s plans are better

Tomorrow, I will wake up to a two-year-old daughter. Three months ago, I had planned to take her to the science museum with my mom and meet my husband for lunch and ice cream. I planned to spend the rest of the day baking cupcakes and cutting out banners. Instead, I will praise God for what he had planned instead, a quiet day together as a family. (But there will still be cupcakes!) While I thought I had a good plan, God’s plan is even better. And while I may not understand, I can trust that he is a better planner than I could ever be.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

So while you are (hopefully) at home social distancing, take a moment to grieve the losses you have felt during this pandemic, even if they are small ones. Then allow that grief to point you to places of weaknesses in yourself and the strength of God. Whether your pain is in figuring out how to finish out the school year at home or finding a job during a recession or fighting the coronavirus yourself, you can be sure that God will use even these trials to sanctify you to become more like Jesus Christ. Take joy that while our economy, health, and other global systems might be weakening, your faith is only being made stronger day by day.

Take joy that while our economy, health, and other global systems might be weakening, your faith is only being made stronger day by day.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

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