Here’s the Plan
Every year at Thanksgiving, when we gather with my husband’s parents and sisters and their families, we have a group of 8 kids between us. Now they’re getting pretty self-sufficient, but most years, at some point they’d be restless, and I’d eventually gather them in the living room with an agenda for the afternoon: “Here’s the plan.”
Now, the plan was something I’d made up on the spot: we are going to do puzzles for half an hour, then the dads are going to take you across the street to the playground, and then — and only then — will it be time for another snack. Or: I’m going to play Simon Says with you, and then you are all going to watch a movie and if you can’t agree on which one then I am picking, and then you will help granny set the table for dinner.
The magic of the plan was that it didn’t matter what the plan was — just that they heard that I had one. The kids would more or less follow my itinerary, and before you knew it, we’d made it to 5 pm — ready for a glass of wine and that much closer to bedtime. I provided structure; I created the narrative and brought order to chaos. The plan let the kids know what to expect, even if they didn’t like all of it.
In many areas of my life, I am the one with the plan. People seem to find it reassuring.
At work, when my bosses have a new idea for a project, they turn to me to figure out how to get it done. What should the deadlines be? Do we need a formal contract? Should we partner with another organization? What’s the plan?
At church, our leadership is trying to figure out what our particular mission is for the medium-term, and has entered a time of discerning and determining vision. My fellow elders turn to me at each meeting and ask me what we should do next. How will we involve the congregation? How do we break old patterns? What will we have at the end of this process? What’s the plan?
At the hospital last week, when a terrible social worker told us we had 24 hours to find a skilled nursing facility for my dad or else pay the hospital fees out of pocket, my family turned and looked at me expectantly. What’s the plan?
That night, I went home. I cried. I panicked. Inside my head, I was screaming I HAVE NO PLAN. I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT SKILLED NURSING FACILITIES! I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO ANY OF THIS! STOP LOOKING AT ME, PEOPLE! I went to sleep. I woke up and I typed up a 3-page strategy for stalling the rush at the hospital, researching nursing homes, and getting better answers from the doctors. I printed a copy for myself and one for my mom and my sister. “Here’s the plan,” I told them.
A lot of religious people I know talk about God’s plan for their lives. I don’t have a conceptual problem with that — sovereign God, in control, yada yada yada. But where God seems to fall down on the job is in communicating the plan. People feel better when you TELL THEM THE PLAN. I know this. I live this.
But today I am thinking about what would I have done if a year ago, God had sat me down and told me the plan. Maybe She’d have said: “Kerry, here’s the plan: You’re going to sell your nice house and buy a bigger one so your parents can move in with you. It’s expensive but you’ll figure it can work because your mom will say she’ll help with the kids, so you can fire the au pair. Your husband is finally going to get the new job you’ve been encouraging him to pursue for years, and it’ll keep him at work for 12 hours+ most days. Your dad’s health is going to nose dive and your mom will have her own health crisis. With all this swirling around them, your kids are going to freak out and act like little jerks for a while. Your brothers and sisters are going to need to come see your dad in case he dies, and they will now come to your house where you will feed them and shelter them. Your house is going to be home base for Shit Hits the Fan: The Extended Cut.”
I am 100% sure I would have said that this plan could use some improvement. This plan seems pretty darn taxing. As a professional plan-maker, I have some edits for you, God. Let’s take another pass at it, mmkay?
Because I was not asked for my editorial input, I have had to learn that not knowing is its own kind of gift. Perhaps it’s not that I’ve been caught unprepared, it’s that I can discover what happens next. Maybe I can even learn to to do so with delight or gratitude: what will happen next?
I have a new idea. Hold on lightly to my schedules. Hold on tightly to my people. Accept help. Cry more. Let the inside voice that says “I have no idea what to do next” out to talk. When the next wave hits, don’t tense up. Get softer.
Here is the plan: let’s wait with terrible wonder and see.