God’s Purposes or Ours?
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. — Proverbs 19:21
In my early years as a mother, I was often overwhelmed by the enormous responsibility combined with the unpredictability of babies and toddlers. Nothing in my academic or professional life had prepared me for this challenge!
I tried to control the chaos by creating systems of planning, goal setting, and time management. That’s a rather grandiose way to describe my early hand-scrawled lists taped to the wall above our kitchen table so I could try to keep track of everything. I found so much satisfaction in accomplishment that I sometimes wrote down tasks I had already completed just for the pleasure of crossing them off the list!
Over the years my system became more elaborate, with carefully categorized daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and life plans. I developed a home study course for sharing it and began speaking about how to get things done. It was thrilling to discover that my system worked well for other people too.
But a system isn’t enough.
Lists, charts, and schedules can be wonderful tools to help us be good stewards of our time and our lives. But I’ve learned that while plans are good servants, they can be terrible masters. We can become so focused on checking tasks off our lists that we run roughshod over the people around us. Our plans can even become idols. Successful planning can create pride, arrogance, and an illusion that we really are in control . . . but we’re not. Our days and hours are ultimately in God’s hands, not ours.
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. — Proverbs 16:9
So should we just throw planning out the window? Not at all. The important thing is our heart attitude—our willingness to trust God’s providence and lean on His guidance . . . even when life doesn’t follow our plans. How we handle interruptions is a good way to gauge this.
We must pray for discernment to know how to respond to each situation. Sometimes the appropriate response is to ignore an interruption and continue the task at hand. At other times, an interruption is a signal to be sensitive to God’s timing and to recognize an opportunity to serve someone who really needs us. C. S. Lewis said, “What one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day.” This realization has softened and enriched my overachiever approach to planning.
English nun Janet Erskine Stuart’s attitude provides a wonderful reminder of how God’s providence applies to interruptions. Her assistant’s explanation convicts and encourages me, and I hope it will do the same for you:
She delighted in seeing her plan upset by unexpected events, saying it gave her great comfort, and that she looked on such things as an assurance that God was watching over her stewardship, was securing the accomplishment of His will, and working out His own designs. Whether she traced the secondary causes to the prayer of a child, the imperfection of an individual, to obstacles arising from misunderstandings, or to interference of outside agencies, she was joyfully and gracefully ready to recognize the indication of God’s ruling hand, and to allow herself to be guided by it. (Maud Monahan, The Life and Letters of Janet Erskine Stuart, 93)