As wonderful as my other plans might have been, they were my plans. We think we know what will make us happy. But God knows us way better than we know ourselves.
- Sister Lauren Franko O.P. - Radical Love
My very first journal was a dark green book with thick lined pages that reminded me of the old composition books from grade school. The paper was acidic and cramped my hand quickly, so I didn’t really enjoy the act of writing as much as I’ve come to since. Despite its shortcomings, it was the first book I filled with my thoughts and aspirations. For that reason alone I imagined I’d never get rid of it. I went back and read it a few times. Most of it made me cringe with shame and wonder at how young I seemed, but there were the occasional pockets of insight.
It was only page two or three in the book when I made a dramatic claim about life. I set myself on a path in it with vigor, purpose, and resolve. I had made up my mind and would press forward. Then I turned the page. There, in the very next entry, I read and remembered how everything had gone immediately wrong. Not only had my plan not worked out, it hadn’t even begun. Life chose another path for me and I was left with no say at all.
Now I don’t want to complain about how things didn’t work out as I’d planned. In fact, things went much better than I could have ever hoped! The point was, my decision had much less influence on my life than I ever expected.
When we grow up, we imagine that we are the masters of our own fate. We are told we can do anything, be anything, as long as we strive for it with our hearts and work for it with our minds. But that’s not exactly true. For some of us, opportunity doesn’t present itself, and no manner of application, study, planning, or vigor will get us to where we dream. It’s not something to be depressed about, though, and I hope no one takes it that way. The truth is much more beautiful.
You see, people are different. Saying that will probably get me in trouble with some people, but it’s the truth. Some of us are smarter than others. Some of us have more wealth, access to better education, or just access to running water. Some of us are born in a ditch and die there before we can learn that there are people a hundred miles away living in metal buildings that stretch higher than the clouds. And some of us are born to such comfort and privilege that we never bother to learn that there are people a mile away starving in a gutter.
We can plan and try all we want, but our lots in life are as varied as we are. We can strive to be more, to become successful, or even powerful, but not “anything”. It’s okay, though. You see, it’s not our ambition that makes us great. It’s not our struggle to be the most powerful or adventurous that is even most important. When we tell our children they can be anything they want to be we are leaving out a very important piece of the equation. We have left out what we are called to be.
My first journal taught me that just because something wasn’t my plan, it doesn’t mean it is bad. It may be even better! The difficult part is accepting that possibility.
A monk once told me that he believed God didn’t call people to things they didn’t like or want on some level. I’m not sure liking or disliking it has very much to do with the equation. Sometimes God calls us to difficult lives, or lives of pain and suffering, but even these lives are for a reason. I believe, though, that God calls us to be what will make us the best possible us, whether it is in an office in America or a farm in Cambodia.
So what does all this mean to me now? In the face of yet another “plan”, I am left wondering whether I am relying too much on myself and not enough on whom I should. After all, if I just shut up for a minute, it’s perfectly clear what he’s saying. Ten years ago I didn’t want to hear it. Five years ago I thought I had better plans of my own. Three years ago I thought I could listen, but on my own terms. How long is it going to take before I realize that some things aren’t really in my control? How long until I accept and stop with the bull-headed selfish wishes of childhood?
And [Christ] showed me that it was His great desire of being loved by men and of withdrawing them from the path of ruin that made Him form the design of manifesting His Heart to men, with all the treasures of love, of mercy, of grace, of sanctification and salvation which it contains, in order that those who desire to render Him and procure Him all the honour and love possible, might themselves be abundantly enriched with those divine treasures of which His heart is the source.
- St. Margaret Mary Alacoque - Revelations of Our Lord to St. Mary Margaret Alacoque (1673-4)