In the 1970s, the year 2020 sounded very futuristic, like the shows we watched of The Six Million Dollar Man or Lost in Space.
About that time, my older brother wrote some far-away predictions on a classroom-sized chalkboard that hung hidden (and rather out of place) along one wall in our cluttered farm shed. His precise handwriting detailed an extensive list of how life would be in 2020. I remember prophesies about living on Mars and traveling by personal jet pack.
But more than the exact predictions (most seemed even crazier), I remember the impression it planted in my head. That was the first time I thought about time existing out ahead of myself. The notion that there was new territory a future me would walk. It didn’t take me long to pick up the practice of planning, preparing, posturing myself for something that would unfold later in my life. And I got the idea that as long as I worked hard enough at doing that, I could largely control how my life went.
But as I step out of the iconic year my brother predicted about, I see how my plans were not the ones that mattered.
A GOD WHO PLANS
One of my best Christmas gifts was The Jesus Bible, featuring sidenotes of the whole story of the Savior, planned from the beginning. Details described and orchestrated 700 years in advance. Every one of God’s prophesies about the Messiah came true, because He had an unstoppable plan.
(In contrast, very few of my brother’s detailed predictions became reality. To be fair, no one could have seen COVID, Tiger King, or Zoom coming from 40+ years away. The chalked essay started out with the line, “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.” How true that turned out to be.)
As I experience a geeky rush of excitement over my new agenda planner, I feel a renewed closeness to this God Who Plans. I’m sure it felt discouraging at times to keep planning, as we repeatedly turned away or ran away or explained Him away. But He kept coming for us. He kept planning our rescue.
I feel a renewed closeness to this God Who Plans. I’m sure it felt discouraging at times to keep planning, as we repeatedly turned away or ran away or explained Him away. But He kept coming for us. He kept planning our rescue.Click To Tweet
Not unlike our situation as 2020 bumps into 2021:
Our good God made a tenacious scheme for a world in trouble.
AFRAID TO PLAN
Contrary to my childhood revelation, it’s not true that I ultimately get to call the shots, no matter how much planning or predicting I do on my end. And yet, every January a pull to plan surfaces. It’s actually an invitation to partner with God in His plan. Ann Voskamp calls that nudge, “being called to hard and holy things.”
It always feels good to scrape away the remnants of an old year, to prepare for something new, to envision a clean slate. That’s never been more true than in 2021.
And fresh new starts are the very essence of Christianity.
But often we struggle with where we’ve been.
Looking back over 2020, we’re all taking stock of what just happened. Staring at a blank calendar, we see more than we used to. Even those of us in the middle of life are noticing for the first time world vulnerability, weak spots, and wide-ranging threats that we used to assume were impossibilities.
Looking back over 2020, we’re all taking stock of what just happened. Staring at a blank calendar, we see more than we used to. Even those of us in the middle of life are noticing for the first time world vulnerability, weak spots, and wide-ranging threats. Click To Tweet
As we open the door to a new beginning, we know from experience it won’t be all good. That open door opens us up to so much. Through that door will come trouble:
People we love will leave us,
Addictions will return,
A new diagnosis will arrive.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
We didn’t put up a Christmas tree last month. First time ever. Like I was mad at 2020 and wasn’t going to reward it with a beautiful, traditional Christmas. But Christmas happened anyway. My grown chicks flew back into my nest (actually, drove for days to avoid COVID). It was a celebration I couldn’t foresee. After a tumultuous year, I think I was afraid to plan.
On the cusp of a nationwide vaccine program, but still holding fresh memories of a disappointing year, so many are afraid to plan – a trip, a wedding, even a dinner.
But when we are afraid to plan, what we are really afraid to do is hope.
And no Believer belongs there.
On the cusp of a nationwide vaccine program, but still holding fresh memories of a disappointing year, we are afraid to plan - a trip, a wedding, even a dinner. When we are afraid to plan, what we are really afraid to do is hope. No believer belongs there.Click To Tweet
Do not be afraid or some iteration of it, appears 365 times in Scripture. One for every day of a hope-starved year like we’ve just had, and may have again. God knew we’d need His constant assurance as we press forward.
The only way to let go of fear is to hold our plans with an open hand.
And grasp Hope with the other.
HOPE IS THE PLAN
Hope is more than being optimistic about the future.
“Optimism is circumstantial; hope is far-reaching. Optimism is temporary; hope is eternal.”
– Scott McClellan
True hope exists independently of time. (Who knows? Maybe my brother’s predictions were just ahead of schedule and we will all travel with little jet packs strapped to our backs before the decade ends.) My brother’s forecast remained on that chalkboard until my parents sold their farm. I reread them a few times, wondering if the calendar would ever catch up to his predictions. As the years progressed, the bold prophesies seemed not so much unreasonable, just ill-timed.
As 2021 continues to mysteriously unfold, I am pushing forward, with hope hinging on God’s trustworthiness rather than His timing.
He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
These words represent one of the far too few times I’ve been able to draw a line from scripture to my own life: Though I am hard-wired to want the full plan, I don’t get access to the timing of the entire story arc.
But that never precludes hope. In fact, it fosters it. Not knowing the timing forces us out of our self-controlled calendars and into the only Way we can move forward.
“Hope is a strategy. Hope is the only strategy you have to have to keep living.”
– Ann Voskamp
As year six of heart failure begins, hope was something I didn’t expect to need so much of, so soon. I didn’t expect the storm to last as long as it has. Like so many, I am waiting for the gaps to be filled in. Mostly, I want to remember that there are times I’ve seen them eventually filled in with something much better than any of us could have planned or predicted.
My journal entry from four years ago this week:
I had cardiac testing at Cleveland Clinic today to determine if the pacemaker/defibrillator that was installed last fall had helped my heart function. The doctors were not hopeful. I’ve had no improvement for 16 months despite maximum medical intervention. I was considered Cleveland Clinic’s “special patient.” The most optimistic cardiologists expected, at best, a five-point bump in EF due to the advanced stage of my heart failure. Unbelievably, my EF doubled from 15-17% to 25-35%. The doctor cried as she read the report. I looked over at my husband and his head was buried in his hands as he sobbed. Though it didn’t erase my heart failure and it seems late to the game, we are so in awe of this unexpected boost.
A HOPE-HESITANT 2021
Be patient with this fragile new year. If we learned anything from the news focus on the first vaccine vial or our recent celebration of the Bethlehem manger or my own incremental improvement, it’s this:
Hope arrives in small packages. And usually not on our timeline.
Be patient with this fragile new year. If we learned anything from the news focus on the first vaccine vial or our recent celebration of the Bethlehem manger, it’s this: Hope arrives in small packages. And usually not on our timeline.Click To Tweet
2021 will not reset the economy, eliminate the virus, or cure our divisions. Still, while I don’t make resolutions even in non-pandemic years, I usually make plans. (I get that from my daddy. He was always plotting his next venture. Probably my brother got it from him, too.) Hope allows us to plan, to press into an unknown year, holding our expectations loosely but holding Him closely.
More than a chalkboard prediction, His was a plan, propelled by a promise. Held by hope.
So will go our 2021, however accurate our naïve predictions turn out to be.