You’ve probably heard the phrase, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” It came up in a great discussion I was having with some good friends on Saturday. We talked about how this phrase actually isn’t very helpful – it makes us think we just need to find the blueprint and follow the plan in order for our lives to be wonderful. If our lives aren’t wonderful, we wonder if we’re somehow missing out on the perfect plan that God wants us to be following.
This can lead to paralysis in decision-making as we look for confirmation from God on which direction is part of “the plan.” While we should be looking for God’s guidance and direction in our lives, often we want everything spelled out in concrete before we move forward. Then we get frustrated when we don’t seem to get any clear answers from God. We can begin to question our ability to hear or wonder if he doesn’t care.
In Listening to God in Times of Choice, Gordon Smith writes,
God does not abandon us in a time of decision.
It is important to stress this because we will often feel the absence of God at the critical junctures of our lives. Many times God will seem silent, and we may think we have been deserted. We are children and God is our Father. But he is the Father of adult children. In times of decision the motives that drive us and the faith that nourishes us will be tried. God could give us simple answer; he knows what is best. But as adult children we discover that he often keeps a gentle distance, providing us with the necessary space to discern and in the process to mature our faith.
John Ortberg writes in a similar vein, in God is Closer Than You Think, that sometimes it’s better for us to wrestle and grapple with decisions without feeling clear direction from God because it helps us grow and challenges us to really assess our lives and take responsibility for our choices.
On one hand, it’s a huge relief to let go of the “there’s-only-one-right-plan” concept. On the other hand, it means we have more freedom than we sometimes want! In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes about her experience with asking God about his plan for her life,
Then one night, when my whole heart was open to hearing from God what I was supposed to do with my life, God said, “Anything that pleases you.”
“What?” I said, resorting to words again, “What kind of answer is that?”
“Do anything that pleases you,” the voice in my head said again, “and belong to me.”
At one level, that answer was no help at all. The ball was back in my court again, where God had left me all kinds of room to lob it wherever I wanted . . . at another level, I was so relieved . . . Whatever I decided to do for a living, it was not what I did but how I did it that mattered.
All of this is summed up succinctly with, “Love God and then do as you please” (St. Augustine).
If you’re struggling with the idea that you’re missing out on God’s plan for your life, or wondering if you’re not listening hard enough, I’d recommend taking some time to examine your expectations. Do you actually care more about “the plan” than you do about knowing God? It might be time to let go.