When news of the coronavirus broke in March, I did not expect the shutdown to last for more than a month. I assumed life would bounce back to normal soon, and that my plans for the year would remain mostly intact. I was wrong.
It was as if someone had ripped all the pages after February from my calendar.
One of the most important events on the books was a writer’s conference in April. I hoped it would bring me a step closer to my dream of publishing a book. There were many publishers and other industry professionals that I had been looking forward to meeting at the five-day event. But, by the end of March, my fears were confirmed—I received word that the conference was cancelled.
My family’s much-awaited family vacation in the spring was indefinitely postponed. Our trip to India in July to spend time with our parents and relatives had to be pushed to next year. My son’s classes and camps were canceled. All my social and professional events and projects for the remainder of the year simply dissipated. And it all happened so fast. Without warning.
I’m not alone. Across the globe, many people have struggled to cope with the sudden crash of plans. There was little time to prepare for the shutdown. The immediate focus was survival. We stocked up on groceries, sanitizers, masks, thermometers, and toilet paper. We turned our homes into shelters, preparing to ride out the tornado of a virus that was destroying everything in its path.
But how could we have equipped ourselves to deal with the emotional and economic repercussions of social isolation? How could we have braced ourselves for a complete overhaul of our plans? How do we cope with a future that is so uncertain that the only course of action left is “let’s wait and see what happens?”
There is great value in emergency preparedness. But if we don’t know what kind of emergency can befall us, we can’t possibly be prepared for it. This year, the coronavirus pandemic was the big emergency. Who knows what’s coming next year, next month, or next week?
More than anything else, what the pandemic revealed to me was our absolute lack of control over the future and the frailty and brevity of our lives. We can make big, solid, fail-proof plans for our lives, but can’t be certain that we will live to see them fulfilled. Do we know for sure, when we fall asleep tonight, if we will be alive at the dawn of a new day? Forget calendars and projects, according to the apostle James, we are not even the masters of our waking moments:
“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4: 13-16 (NIV).
Planning for the future is wise and necessary. But we cannot put our faith in man-made plans. We cannot pin our hopes on our plans. Instead, we must anchor our faith and hope in a God who is in control of everything, who is omniscient and loving, and who causes all things to work for our good (Romans 8:28). Like Paul, we can surrender every detail of our lives to His absolute authority-
I will return again to you, God willing (Acts 18:21).
But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills (1 Corinthians 4:19).
I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits (1 Corinthians 16:7).
Does this mean I don’t schedule plans on my calendar? No. Planning helps me prioritize my tasks and manage my time and resources. But I’m learning to hold loosely to my plans since they are based on my limited intelligence and lack of knowledge of the future.
When my calendar is torn into pieces, I can draw comfort and strength from the fact that my future is secure in God’s mighty hands. I can have confidence in His plans for me and wait for them to unfold…in His time and in His way.
(This article was first published in Courageous Magazine.)