Few things make me feel as confident, comfortable and relaxed as a well laid plan.
I crave structure. I do everything within my power to achieve control over my circumstances and environment – and I consume more post-it notes than one human being reasonably should.
Inevitably though, it doesn’t always work.
When things spiral off of my carefully crafted course – and it can be anything from shifting what I had planned to cook for dinner to shifting a ontological/theological/philosophical belief – I immediately get super stressed. Stress is followed in quick succession by either angry tears or the most fantastic version of “Resting Bitch Face” you can imagine.
I love the art of a well crafted plan. Experience tells me, though, that the good stuff is often hidden in the diversions…and even (especially?) in the train wrecks.
I think back to my first few years out of college.
I found myself unexplainably and undeniably drawn to, “called” to pastoral ministry – which is not something I had planned to do on a vocational level at any point in my life.
I took a job at a church in WISCONSIN of all places – which is about 400 miles further north (and 75 degrees COLDER) than I ever planned to live.
About a year in to this job-I-never-planned-to-have in this place-I-never-planned-to-live, Ben and I found out we were expecting a baby-we-hadn’t-planned-to-have (or at least hadn’t planned to have for about four more years).
And if I’m honest, those few years rocked me to the core. You know, when you’re shook up so much you don’t even actually know that you’re out of sorts because not only are you in limbo, but all of your reference points are as well?
It was months and months of small (and a few big) decisions, daily interactions, and unexpected circumstances that culminated in a moment when I didn’t know who I was or what to think any more.
Very few things made sense during those years, and even the things that did were warped and muddled as though I was observing them through a fun house mirror.
I asked questions I’d never asked before.
I dug through memories I’d chosen to bury.
I allowed myself to wonder “what if?” about things I’d once decided were open and shut cases.
“The Almighty Plan” fell through and it stressed me out and broke me down, and “The Almighty Plan” fell through and in doing so I was set free.
For many of us, faith and spirituality were presented as the ultimate plan:
Say this prayer.
Do these things.
Don’t do these other things.
Follow these rules.
And you will go to heaven when you die.
That worked for some of us for months or years or even decades of our lives. Then, for whatever reason, it stopped working.
The prayers felt hollow.
We kept doing the things, but couldn’t remember why we did them, or why we shouldn’t do the other things.
The black and white rules became more like a coloring book, and we couldn’t ignore the vibrancy breaking out between our well crafted lines.
And while we waited for heaven, life felt like hell.
What I’m learning is that the tradition we were handed is much bigger than the box we received it in. At first, asking the questions (that we’ve all had, the whole time) may feel like opening Pandora’s Box, but actually asking the questions is more like opening Hermione’s purse (or Mary Poppins’ bag, if you prefer.)
The questions open us up, and the vacuum created can suck you in and swallow you up, or it can be the space you reach inside to find exactly what you need in that moment.
I’m learning that the questions, the dark places, and the unknown are often the places in which I find God in new ways. The places I least want to go end up being the greatest sources of life in the long run. Richard Rohr (Franciscan Friar, writer and teacher) says it this way:
“We all remain who we are. But on the way to healing or liberation we have to do what the Romans called agere contra: we have to act against the grain of our natural compulsions. This requires clear decisions. Because it does not happen by itself, it is in a way ‘unnatural’ or ‘supernatural’ . . . (we) simply have to cut loose now and then, and in the process . . . make mistakes.”
It goes against everything within me – things I was taught to believe and things which are the core of who I am myself – to embrace ambiguity and wondering. I hate making mistakes. I hate not knowing. Yet, the most confident thing I can say on many days is “I don’t know”
I don’t know how to explain suffering…
I don’t know how we move forward through intense violence and hatred…
I don’t know how we reconcile in light of such division…
I don’t know why things happen this way…
But I know there is a God; that God is Love. I know that God is the Ground of all of this, even my questions, and that if I feel like I’m asking a question that God can’t handle, then chances are that god isn’t real anyway.
I know that I am on a journey, that it’s okay that I don’t have it all together, and that I do have this moment and this day. I know that these moments matter in some way – even if it’s only that I’m patient with my daughter, loving toward my husband, friendly with my neighbors and gracious to the coffee shop barista.
And somehow just those simple and few things feels more true and tangible than so many well-crafted answers and rules I held fiercely for years.