He got my hopes up.
I was cautious, but I was hopeful. Hope is a tough one for me. It’s a word that circles around me; one I wish I could grab more often than I do. Usually I smile at hope as it fires past with someone else in tow.
But this time it was me. And I liked him. And he liked me back. Hope grew.
Who or when or why doesn’t really matter. But I will tell you that I was impressed by his heart and wit, couldn’t stop staring at his mouth, we had history and values in common, and he called off our camaraderie with no explanation at 1am via text message while I was on vacation.
It’s Valentine’s Day, so thoughts turn to romances old and new, steady and broken, whether we like it or not. It doesn’t really matter anymore if Saint Valentine wasn’t an archer, that this is a holiday made up by corporations to bridge the commercial lull between Christmas and Easter, or that naked babies arranging your love life from the clouds is an absolutely terrible idea.
We all have these stories. We all have stories of hope.
I’ll bet whether you’re committed or single, young or old, you know the sensation of giving up your cynicism about something or someone. You’ve felt a cautious hope lighting up inside you for a person or opportunity that seems really good, almost too good, but not quite so good that it’s impossible. You risk a little bit. You see reason to proceed. You hope a little bit more. You delight in this act of opening up to something new.
And it goes on.
Until it simply doesn’t.
Some people try to tell me that this is God’s plan. They write their stories, about all of the twists and turns that lead to marriage or the romance they have now. They assure me that I’m not behind schedule because I’m single, that God doesn’t operate on our schedules anyway, that I should focus on becoming The One for someone else, that God’s timetable is perfect if I just accept it. They have good stories full of true bravery and hope and yes, I can see God in it.
But I don’t think God has a plan.
At least, I don’t think God has a plan in the way that we talk about God having a plan.
See, people tend to talk about God having a plan like it’s linear and like it’s going to get better as it goes along. When this conversation plays out, singleness is a “stage” or “season” preparing me for some sort of glorious future that involves marriage.
Whenever it’s set up like this, marriage is the happiness offered to me at the end of the plan if I just stick it out. This leaves many of us constantly worrying about whether or not we’re “on plan” currently or feeling shame and questioning God when things go badly.
Because if God has a plan like that for my love life, it really sucks.
If God is charting and manipulating my relationship journey so I, The One, can finally meet you, The One, and then everything will be fine, then I want off this boat. Not because I want to quit difficult things or avoid challenges or stop growing or don’t trust God. It’s not even because I don’t think that romantic longevity is possible; I think it it absolutely is.
But this “plan” thing seems like it’s totally crazy making. It involves me saying that a large section of my life will only matter once I have a ring and some holy vows to mark it. It eliminates the stories of suffering or pain that happen in marriages, even good ones that last. It requires me to pretend like getting dumped by someone I was beginning to trust, someone I saw as a friend and colleague, doesn’t suck. Whether or not I get married some day will not change the pain of that experience. And the suggestion that God’s plan was behind that pain rather than a human decision makes God out to be kind of sadistic.
And the suggestion that God’s plan was behind that pain rather than a human decision makes God out to be kind of sadistic.
And, let’s get real, I don’t think that happiness is something I have to wait for or even find ultimately in a romantic relationship. I am not living in some sort of false enjoyment of life until I have a husband to make it real. This is my real life, now, and it is disappointing and it is good. And my faith in God is what helps me distinguish those two things.
When we only offer the “God has a plan” narrative, the one that says you must simply plod through all the hard things until they are magically revealed to have been good things or that they led you to good things, we are removing ourselves from reality.
My experience with God offers me a deeper centering in reality, not escapism. I don’t remember any stories of Jesus telling people someday their pain would make sense, that in the future they’d get something that would be better than healing in the moment.
Jesus stood with people.
He saw, touched, healed, and planted himself very much in their lives by inviting himself to dinner. He didn’t fix every single detail of their disappointments, but he didn’t offer people platitudes that his Father created their sufferings for some personal glory.
He walked around calling evil for what it was, driving it out, and weeping with those who experienced the death of hope.
And that, to me changes everything. I haven’t quite sorted out exactly how God works with us without controlling every detail, but it brings me comfort. It’s so much more powerful that trying to follow a map or hoping that other people are following their maps so that we can get past this mess and just get married. If there’s no map, but there is an incarnate God who will stand with us and for us, we can have peace even when things fall apart. We can simply engage with reality and ask God to meet us, wherever we are.
I don’t need a God with a blueprint plan if I can have a God who is with me.
Speak Up! Do you think God has a plan for your life? Does it help you through hardship? How do you experience God’s presence?
[Photo: tmarsee530, Creative Commons]