Oh Jeremiah!

When asked which of us was more “Type-A,” my ex said, “Well, I think I am neater and cleaner, but Jake is more of a planner.” While I had never previously seen myself in that light, she was correct; I am a planner.

This is not to say that I keep my days packed with errands or coffee dates. It does not mean I keep a day planner or regularly use the calendar on my phone. I do not have a Five, Ten, or Thousand Year Plan. It would be news to me if any of my friends said I lived such a lifestyle. All it means, as far as I know, is that I like there to be a plan and I like to know it. For the most part, it doesn’t even matter what the plan is (although a plan involving seafood, heights, or bees is not acceptable); as long as I know that it is the plan, I am just as happy doing nothing as I am throwing a party, seeing a movie, running errands, or getting coffee. Even “playing it by ear” is an acceptable plan, as long as all parties concur on the final goal.

This desire for a plan that I can comprehend makes Jeremiah 29:11 an especially difficult verse to live out in a practical way. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

It is such a lovely, inspirational verse that is easy to scribble in bereavement cards, easy to print on bumper stickers, and easy to think you believe, as long as it remains detached from your own life. But the moment you need a plan, the moment you want to know the plan, and the moment every muscle is coiled in preparation for decisive action, the verse loses its inspiration and loveliness. It becomes a haunting reminder that you don’t have a plan. You don’t have control. It is paralyzing because you don’t know whether to prepare for everything or for nothing; you don’t know your compatriots or your adversaries. This is where your supposed “spiritual maturity” gets slapped across the face; you’ve always claimed that you trust God, but when faced with the actual trust-fall, you freeze.

This is one of the hardest aspects of faith: relinquishing the dominion of your next few hours, days, months or years, of which we only experience a second at a time. The stages of my life which have been the hardest have been those in which my plan was stripped from my hands and shredded; moves, school changes, colleges, job searches, break-ups; to have your plan, even a plan of little significance, utterly stifled is traumatizing. Often, in attempting to piece together what I can of my plan, I intensify the trauma. I’ve ignored God’s voice crying to lead me through the wilderness and instead attempted to maintain what plot I’ve constructed on scraps of paper being blown about in the wind. I have no interest in exploring unknown territory with unfathomable hazards in order to reach an unknown locale—to do so would be to defy reason. It is only when I able to relinquish, not only my original plan, but also my plans to restore said plans that I can respond to God’s direction. In hindsight, my futile attempts to maintain my own plans are laughable as the Lord has led me to lands of milk and honey which I would not have experienced had I carried out my own plans; hindsight also renders these attempts lamentable as I see how long I starved while resisting those lands.

Relinquishing one’s plans is still miserably difficult; I know because I’m constantly entrenched in one of those periods. And every time I manage to pass a turbulent stage, Jeremiah’s prophecy, and my witness of its repeated fulfillment, still doesn’t stop me from daily wrestling with God, like my biblical namesake, grasping for even one detail of the plan. But he continues to draw back the curtain only bit by maddening bit. I am both the actor and audience, playing the part commanded, but only discovering it as it unfolds. And I am struggling, as I only see the whole—what I did right and what I did wrong, where I aligned myself with the director’s visions and where I strayed—when it is complete.

 

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