“The best-laid plans of mice and men…” Most of us at least try to achieve a “planned life.” We plan for college. We plan our careers. We plan our relationships. We are forever warned against haphazard living, and rightly so because a haphazard life tends toward chaos and misery. Even our faith has all the earmarks of a clear path; a way of life, filled with clear instructions and a narrow plan for focused living. Hey, you know I end many of my devotionals with a favorite catchphrase of being Orthodox on Purpose!
And yet, I have to admit that life very rarely goes according to my plans. My plans get disrupted. My plans fail. Others either actively or accidentally have plans that conflict with my plans. As I told a person the other day: “Everything would be easier for everybody if they would simply do what I say!” Yeah, good luck with that, Fr. Barnabas!
So, what do we do when our plans are disrupted, when they fail, and when they are postponed? Well, I’m convinced that simply because a plan isn’t perfect doesn’t mean we should abandon making plans, but it does mean we should allow for the possibility that Another Plan is at work!
Just look at our Epistle Lesson this morning in Philippians 2:24-30:
BRETHREN, I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself shall come also. I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy; and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete your service to me.
St. Paul is continuing to instruct his parish in Philippi, and we already know that the Philippian church had sent their priest, St. Epaphroditus, to St. Paul while he was in prison (I’m sure prison wasn’t in St. Paul’s plan for his life) to bring St. Paul an offering they had collected for his mission. While there, St. Epaphroditus became gravely ill and almost died (I’m sure this deathly illness wasn’t on St. Epaphroditus’ agenda either)!
The key here is to notice three invitations to the reality of disrupted plans: First, Don’t Panic! (Do you have your towel – if you get that reference, fine. If not, don’t worry!) Reality is never an enemy of Truth. In fact, the only way through disruptions is to be honest and acknowledge what is rather than trying to maintain some fantasy or illusion that everything is OK when it isn’t. Panic feeds illusion and the temptation is to escape into fantasy, so don’t panic and protect yourself from overreacting!
Next, Assume God’s Mercy! Notice how St. Paul’s writings urge the Philippians to rejoice. Even when our plans are disrupted, the believer assumes God is present, God knows the situation, and God loves the believer and will be gracious in this momentary challenge! This is where faith leaves the comfortable realm of mere theory to actually being practiced. It’s in the disruptions, the surprises, and even the tragedies that faith shines. As the old song said: “If I’d never had a problem, how could I know that God could solve them?”
Finally, Rest in Grace. You can’t face disrupted plans by frenzied activity that reveals both a false notion of self-reliance AND a lack of confidence and patience in God’s grace. Rest and still your heart so that you can notice, learn, and embrace all the wisdom this momentary disruption is offering you! And believe me, there is a ton of wisdom available to you in these moments! Do yourself and your family a favor: Learn from this!
Today, have your plans been disrupted? Has tragedy or aggravation or even fair-weather friends turned your hopes and dreams upside down? OK, embrace reality. Assume God’s Mercy. And Rest in His Grace for you. Mine all the wisdom out of the moment, and “Look unto the hills! Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord!”