A Change in Plans
A little over a year ago, I went on vacation with a few friends, and throughout the trip it seemed I was learning a repeated lesson: be ready for your plans to change! On one of the days, I had booked an all-day tour to visit several World War II sites on the beaches of Normandy, France. Somehow, in shifting between time zones, languages, and cities, I confused the start time of the tour and arrived a half hour after the group had departed. Quickly I called the tour agency, but was told there was no possibility of catching up; I would miss the whole thing. I was so disappointed. With the entire day suddenly freed up, I purchased an afternoon train ticket to Normandy and was able to see at least one WWII site—the American Cemetery on Omaha Beach. Though grateful to be able to visit the cemetery, it still felt like a big letdown from my original expectations.
Another day, as my sister-in-law and I were on a subway heading to an airport, I commented to her that my flight ticket didn’t look quite right. Another passenger overheard our conversation and informed us that Paris has two airports, and we were about to arrive at the wrong one! We missed the flight, had to cancel our itinerary for the evening, and spent the rest of the night on a train instead.
I discovered exactly what I had feared: my wallet had been stolen. My cash, bank cards, and identification were all gone—including my passport.
By far, the biggest adjustment to our plans was the last day of the trip, or I should say, what was supposed to be the last day of the trip. We had just arrived in Italy, intending to stay for only one night as we had an early flight home the next morning. My sister-in-law was looking forward to seeing the original painting of The Last Supper that afternoon. It hangs in a small church in Milan and she had bought her entrance ticket months in advance. As we navigated through the central train station, which was very crowded, we acquired some Euros from an ATM and purchased subway tickets to get to our hotel. Then we grabbed our luggage and started walking toward our platform. On the way, I sensed something was wrong and told my sister-in-law I needed to stop and check my purse before we boarded. I discovered exactly what I had feared: my wallet had been stolen. My cash, bank cards, and identification were all gone—including my passport.
At that moment, our agenda for the day took a hard turn. Rather than seeing The Last Supper, we searched for my wallet in waste bins, spent hours in the dirty and unfriendly waiting room of the downtown police station, and passed still more hours at a bank waiting for an emergency wire transfer of funds. We used our free time to cancel bank cards, call the American Consulate in Milan, and reschedule my flight home.
By the time I arrived in Portland a few days later, I was so glad to be safely home. As I thought about it in retrospect, I recognized that while these unexpected events were difficult to deal with, they were small in comparison to other life-changing events we could experience. An unanticipated job loss, the sudden death of a loved one, or a decline in our health will have a significant impact on the plans we have for our lives. Sometimes those plans are cherished and long-hoped for, and modifications are not welcome news.
Several years back, I had gone through another experience when something I had hoped for did not work out, and I was feeling disappointed. I told myself that since it hadn’t worked out, it must not have been God’s will, so really there was no reason to feel badly. Yet, I did feel sad. I was disappointed that my plans were not God’s will.
Around that time, as I was having my devotions one day, I was reading about King Saul in 1 Samuel. He was Israel’s first king, and the nation held high hopes that he would lead them into a time of prosperity. King Saul had some great achievements, but ultimately he did not fulfill the dreams of his people. He disobeyed God and then lied about it, and in the end he was rejected by God as king. The righteous prophet Samuel—who previously had advised the Israelites against having a king in the first place—was deeply hurt by the situation. When he found out what had happened, the Bible says, “It grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night” (1 Samuel 15:11).
Despite Samuel’s earnest prayer, King Saul’s position as the head of the royal line would not be restored. The damage was done. The chapter ends, “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:35). In summary: wrong choices were made, the consequences were irreversible, and everyone was sad.
It was as though the Lord was saying to me, “Catey, how long will you mourn about this? I have a different plan and it’s a great one. It’s time to move on.”
Of course, this is not where the story ends. The next chapter begins, “And the Lord said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons” (1 Samuel 16:1). This is the verse that really struck me when I was feeling so discouraged about my own situation. It was as though the Lord was saying to me, “Catey, how long will you mourn about this? I have a different plan and it’s a great one. It’s time to move on.” In Samuel’s case, God was ready to send him to anoint David, who would become a hero of the Jews. It was a very exciting day! Yet, there Samuel was, mourning over Saul. I realized that I was also still dwelling on the past and what might have been, and the Lord was gently reminding me that my energy would be better spent preparing for the future He had in mind.
As I reflected on what the Lord was teaching me, I realized that my perspective needed some adjusting. These were some of the lessons I gleaned about how to handle an unexpected change of plans.
Look for what God is doing. The first take-away was not to get stuck feeling like there are no good options for moving forward simply because our expectations have not come to pass. Even if an outcome was unforeseen by us, God knew it was coming, and He certainly has a great plan in mind for moving forward.
Even if we never see what good has come from a sudden change in course, we can still trust that God does have a good purpose in everything He allows.
After missing the WWII tour in France, I immediately began to look for some other purpose God might have intended for me that day. Despite my loss, I was glad to have an opportunity to share part of my testimony with someone on the train to Normandy. And while the experience of having my passport stolen was frightening, I was blessed to see God’s goodness in sending people to help during a time of serious need, and also comforting me when I felt anxious and afraid. Even if we never see what good has come from a sudden change in course, we can still trust that God does have a good purpose in everything He allows.
It’s okay to feel sad, but don’t stay there too long. In the case with King Saul, even God felt sorrow over what had happened. When my passport was stolen, I don’t imagine God was happy about that either. We live in a sinful world, and there will be negative consequences for sin, and that will be sad. More importantly, God has grace and power to overcome sin. Even in times of sadness, rather than dwelling on the negative, we can look to God for solutions.
Be gracious with yourself. Sometimes it may be that our dashed hopes were the result of our own failure. That was definitely the case for my problems in Europe—I should have arrived at the right time for my WWII tour, I should have known what airport to go to, and I definitely should have kept my passport in a security belt! People are not perfect. We make mistakes. Yet, God is sovereign over all, and He is powerful enough to accomplish His will despite our limitations. If we are doing our best to obey His leading in our lives, we can rest in the fact that the only mistakes we make are ones He allows us to make. And perhaps a humbling experience is good for us at times.
Hold plans with a loose hand. We want God to be able to do absolutely anything through our lives, and that means He must be allowed to interrupt our agenda at any time. We have to truly embrace the message of James 4:15, “Ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” As we prayerfully set goals for ourselves and strategies to achieve them, we have to also be careful not to become overly attached to them. We want to hold tightly to God himself, and hold loosely everything else.
Encourage yourself in the Lord. When it seems like plans are falling apart, we can remind ourselves of the times God worked everything out perfectly. If we don’t have personal experiences, we can think of the testimonies of others, or instances in the Bible—the lives of Joseph, Queen Esther, and Ruth come immediately to mind. God really is aware of our situations, He is in control, and He has good intentions for our lives. It is an exercise of faith to trust God’s promises when circumstances seem to indicate the opposite to be true, and rehearsing past victories will help boost our faith when we need it.
If we truly believe that God is good, we have every reason to be optimistic. It does not make sense to be dragging our feet as we do God’s will, or fearing that the worst is about to come.
Be excited about God’s plan. It can be difficult to maintain an optimistic attitude about the future when our expectations have been dashed and a new reality is setting in. However, if we truly believe that God is good, we have every reason to be optimistic. It does not make sense to be dragging our feet as we do God’s will, or fearing that the worst is about to come. God may ask us to do difficult things, but He will give the grace and strength to do them, and He will be with us whatever we go through. What we stand to gain is worth far more than anything we may lose. We have chosen to follow the Lord because we are convinced this is the best way to live! Our outlook on the future ought to reflect that belief.
We have many hopes for ourselves and our loved ones, and that is wonderful. But if one of those dreams does not materialize, how long will we dwell on it before we move on? The Lord is not surprised by outcomes, although He may join us in feeling disappointed. Even so, He still has a good plan for those who will follow Him. Whatever has happened in the past and wherever we find ourselves currently, now is a great time to move forward in God’s plan.