When I plan to go out with a friend, we usually mark two dates on our calendars. That way, if something unexpected comes up, we have a back-up date already on our calendars. I learned long ago, that when making plans, it’s always good to have a Plan B, just in case something makes Plan A impossible.
I have never kept track of how many times I have had to resort to Plan B in my lifetime, but it does happen regularly—in small and big ways. At age 16, for example, I planned to go to college and then get married and have kids. But then I began to feel this strong interior urge to enter the convent—an urge that wouldn’t go away. After becoming a nun, I thought I would teach in Ohio, but then I got shipped down to North Carolina. As John Lennon supposedly remarked, “If you want to make God laugh, just tell God your plans.”
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make plans, of course. Planning is one way we channel our time, energy and talents into activities that are necessary, worthwhile, and helpful for others. But when we make plans, we must not be so wedded to them that we are totally discombobulated when things don’t go as we planned.
Scripture is filled with stories of individuals who changed their plans—because God asked them to. In going with Plan B, they were the better for it—and we are the better for it too. Abraham and Sarah, for example, were an elderly couple who were probably looking for a retirement community in their area. But God asked them to change their plans and leave their familiar world and journey to a land they had never even heard of.
After Moses killed an Egyptian, he fled Egypt, married, and planned to make his living tending his father-in-law’s sheep. But God changed those plans when he called Moses to lead the Hebrews from Egypt to the Promised Land. Mary planned to marry Joseph and raise an ordinary family in an ordinary town. But God asked her to radically alter her plan and become the mother of “the Most High.” This single change of plans led to other changes of her plans: Jesus was born not in Nazareth, but in Bethlehem. Because of Herod’s fury, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were forced to flee into Egypt.
Many theologians believe that Jesus, early in his public ministry, probably didn’t know he would end up being crucified. When he gradually realized how his mission would end, he was terrified. In Gethsemane he begged Abba to change this plan for him. But then he added, “yet, not as I will, but as you will.” In other words, “I embrace your plan for me.”
When you were a child, what were some of the plans you had for your life? When I was a little girl, I wanted to do one of two things: be a professional ice-skater or be a teacher. My brother Pauly wisely said, “Why don’t you just teach ice-skating?” Later on, I planned to be a teacher and a writer. When I entered the Sisters of Notre Dame, my teaching plan was fulfilled, but my writing plan was put on hold for about 15 years.
Today you might want to reflect on these questions: In what ways has life turned out as you planned—and as you didn’t plan? Has Plan B (or C or D) ever been better for you than your original Plan A?
God of my life, give me the grace to alter my own personal plans when compassion or duty urges me to do so. And help me to realize that my entire life and all my plans are in your loving hands. Amen.
Advent is a good time to reflect on Mary and Joseph, two people who were asked to change their plans. This song, “Joseph’s Song,” by Michael Card is one of my favorite Advent/Christmas songs. For me it captures Joseph’s humanity, his great trust in God, and his tender love for Mary and her child–whom he raised as his very own.
I encourage you to share a thought or two about today’s reflection or the song. We’d love to hear from you!