Last Saturday morning, my human nature sprang out of bed with a vengeance. On my Sabbath the previous day, I had plans of spending extended time with Jesus in an autumnal park, but as the morning faded into afternoon, it became increasingly difficult to imagine getting off the couch. My head was aching and my face was warm and blankets had become my one solace in a world turned a bit blurry, but I wasn’t sick! Of course I wasn’t!
I ended up spending twenty minutes in the park before needing to rest heavily on the car seat. When I picked my husband up from work, wearing my gym clothes and putting on a brave face, he declared that we would be heading directly home.
And so it should have come as no surprise that I woke up Saturday feeling terrible, but I got dressed and was mentally building myself up to so as to be able to step out the door. But sweet John, ever the grounding presence, suggested I take my temperature. A low grade fever. Exhaustion. Aches. Despite my best attempt to convince myself and the world otherwise, I was sick.
The only problem was that I had a Volunteer Leadership Retreat planned that day. I had spent the last month praying and brainstorming and working through what I believed the Lord wanted of the day’s schedule. I had shopped for supplies and set them up and asked for the Spirit to work through my efforts. We were ready to go, but it turns out my body was not going to cooperate. We had to cancel the retreat, promise a rain check, and I went back to bed.
This ended up being a great decision. Not only do we live in a world in which sickness could be COVID (thank God that was not the case here) and it is so, so important to protect and love our neighbors by being responsible, but I also felt absolutely awful and would continue in that for three days. It was the longest I have ever been down-and-out sick. I was so incredibly disappointed. Back in March, I had worked hard to help put together a small group leadership training, and then the Coronovirus came. This time around, a day that was meant to encourage and empower our leaders morphed into a day spent curled up and trying to heal.
God, why in the world do some of our best plans end up coming to nothing?
My answer came in the form of a well-known Proverb, which stepped to the front of my brain of its own accord. Once again, The Message says it best for me:
“We humans keep brainstorming options and plans,
but God’s purpose prevails.” Prov. 19:21 (MSG)
I find this verse to be both comforting and challenging. Allow me to explain both sides of that coin.
While reading on my Sabbath, I came across the story of Henri Nouwen’s experience on a trapeze. While watching aerial acrobats, Nouwen realized that the person who lets go of the trapeze can only do so when they know that the catcher will be there to catch them. There has to be the utmost faith placed in the person entrusted with the flyer’s safety. Once that trapeze artist allows that catcher’s presence to be a part of their being, they find the courage to let go. This is faith.
I love being in control. I love making creative plans and implementing them. I love not being sick. Needless to say, Saturday was hard for me.
But when I read this verse, I am reminded that God’s purposes and plans go forward anyway. While I don’t think it was necessarily the Lord’s will for me to be sick, I do know that He will find a way to make sure the leaders at AFUMC are encouraged. He will guide me toward a rain date. He will be the one orienting hearts toward ministry as he has since eternity past. If it is His plan for His people to love their neighbor, then we made the right call to cancel this retreat because the most loving thing I could do was protect my faith family from illness (on that note, wear a mask!).
In short, we are able to let go of the trapeze, release our plans and our desire to control, and trust that our catcher will catch us. Our plans might change, but He always plans to be there when we come tumbling through the air.
This all seemed to culminate in a sweet text sent to me by a congregant in which she shared this quote:
“Faith is the moment by moment choice to believe that God is who he said he is.”
Here He says He is the catcher. He will gather us into His arms, even when things go awry. Unlatch your vice grip on that trapeze and have faith that the world does not hinge on you, but on the gentle hands reaching out for you as you fly. His plans and purposes are better, anyway.
Am I the only one with an inner cynic? Because despite the fact that I am comforted by God’s plans going forth, I also have to fight the impulse to throw my hands up in the air and shout, “Why would I make plans at all?!”
Herein lies the challenge: rather than allowing our hearts to grow cold and the engine of our brainstorms to grow lazy, we can partner with God in His purposes rather than our own.
While planning for this cancelled retreat, I got the sense that I was moving it in the wrong direction. I had a plan for how I thought it should look, but the more that I worked on that plan, the more I felt like I was slamming myself into a wall. After some wise counsel and a whole lot of Holy Spirit, I was able to redirect and reshape the experience and, once I did, it flowed so much more easily. Now, whenever that rain date does come, I believe that we will have something beautiful on our hands, through which God can and will work.
In short, I don’t think the point of the matter is to not plan and brainstorm and create and dream, but to do so in partnership with God. Hold those plans in open palms. Let the Master Sculptor reach over and tweak your design. Don’t be offended and don’t get huffy, just keep playing with it. You can trust that God’s purposes will prevail, you can trust that He wants us to be a part of it, and you can trust that, should you happen to wake up feverish and frustrated on a day in which you planned to lead, a day will come soon in which God will be the one leading while you simply step forward in faith. Keep holding the Divine hand, keep putting your heads together in pursuit of inspiration, and keep believing that He will catch you.
I look forward to our rain date, and I am feeling much better, but in the meantime, I know that something good is at play, and I’m excited to see God move.