The the March Write-Away Contest over at Scribbit really got me thinking. The topic is simply: The next 20 years.
My senior year in college a professor actually asked us to write an essay about that very thing: where are you going to accomplish in the next 20 years? Boy, was I all over that one! I opened up my “Goals” Excel spreadsheet, categorized by short-term, medium-term and long-term goals, and started writing. I started with where I wanted to be in 20 years — the founder and CEO of a thriving web development company with at least 30 employees — and worked backwards from there. I also threw in the various hobbies that I was going to pursue, such as becoming a published author by the time I was 30 and learning to program in Java by the time I was 28. It felt great to know exactly where I was headed!
The problem was, my life veered off the Excel spreadsheet. At the end of each year I’d review all the great plans I’d laid, only to find that I’d accomplished barely half of them. “Goals for this Year – 2001, ” “Goals for this Year – 2002, ” “Goals for this Year – 2003, ” all had distressingly few items crossed off the list. I started to wonder if I needed to find better ways to motivate myself, if perhaps my tendency to procrastinate was to blame, if I was destined for failure.
And then, somewhere along the way, I started to believe in God.
After a life of atheism, I came to believe that there really is a Creator, that we can know him, and that he has a plan for our lives — a plan better than anything we could come up with on our own. When I looked back on my discarded Excel spreadsheets with this newfound knowledge, I started to see something: in each of those years there were certain things I’d accomplished that were not on the spreadsheet, yet that brought greater peace and joy to my life than anything I’d planned to do. Most of these things didn’t come with much acclaim and didn’t have the worldly glamor that my goals had had, yet I could see now that they were far better. I started to wonder just how much more I could have done, how much more my life could have been enriched, if I’d stopped banging my head against doors that were closed, and started peeking into the doors that were open. I started to wonder if maybe Someone else had a better plan for my life than I did.
So, a couple years ago, I decided to set aside the spreadsheets and the goals lists. I decided to stop praying this:
Give us this day a detailed plan of how You’re going to provide bread for us every day for the next 20 years with specifics as to what quantities You will provide and at what intervals we can expect to receive them so that I might work that into my goals milestones.
And to start praying this:
Give us this day our daily bread.
I would plan my life around much shorter intervals, discerning what I should do today or this week or maybe this month, and not try to speculate where God would lead me after that. I would seek not to follow my desire for worldly status or other people’s approval, but to let go and let the finger of God be my guide. And as I reflect on this seemingly reckless abandonment of my life to an unseen God whom I had barely gotten to know, I keep coming back to the same thought:
This shouldn’t work…but it does.
Perhaps it’s my nonreligious background, but I continue to be amazed that my life has not fallen into scattered chaos without my planning it out to the last detail. What I secretly worried would happen is that this whole “following God’s will” thing would lead to me jumping from one idea to the next, leaving a bunch of unfinished projects in my wake after I drifted off to do the next thing that I decided was “God’s will.” But that hasn’t happened. Looking back at the past couple of years, there’s more clarity in my life than ever before. It’s like watching a play unfold: I see storylines cropping up, I’m starting to see a clear direction and purpose in where I have been led so far…I just don’t know where it’s going from here, or how it’s going to end. As I’ve said before, it’s more exciting than anything I could have ever planned.
So, what will happen in the next 20 years? It gives me a little thrill to say: I have no idea! There are a couple things I feel pretty sure about: e.g. that we’re meant to stay in the city we’re in for the rest of our lives, that I’ll always do something involving writing, however informally; and we have taken basic measures for planning for the future such as retirement and college savings accounts. But other than that, I have no idea. I don’t know where my husband’s career will be. I don’t know if I’ll ever get any writing published. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to work. I don’t know whether we’ll be rich or poor. I don’t even know how many children we’ll have.
When I think of the rest of my life here in earth, however long that may be, I don’t expect that it will always be comfortable or easy. But, if the past couple of years are any indicator, I expect to find that God will indeed give me my daily bread, every day, and that with it will come a freedom and a deep sense of peace that I could have never found on my own.
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