Plans. All of us are familiar with plans. There are family plans, school plans, plans at work, travel plans, game plans, and all sorts of other plans. Our days are lived out in them. Even our fun times are planned… sometimes over-planned.
Some people can’t stand plans. They want things to be spontaneous and enjoy the surprises that can come when things are unplanned. Others can’t stand to do anything, and I mean anything, without a plan. They need structure; they go nuts without structures.
The world in which we live these days, with all of its many demands, requires us to plan ahead. Few of us have the luxury of unplanned holidays and vacations. Most of us cannot get away unless we plan time for getting away from all the tasks that face us in our everyday weeks, months, and years.
In the Gospel of Mark (6:30-34) we heard about the apostles who had been out preaching and had come back to Jesus to report about all they had been doing. “The apostles rejoined Jesus,” Saint Mark reports, “and told him all they had done and taught. Then he said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’; for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. So they went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves.” They obviously needed a break, so Jesus decided they all needed to get away and get some rest. We all can identify with that, can’t we?
It must have been a lovely scene. They all get into a fishing boat and begin rowing out across the lake, the boat gliding along the smooth waters with only the sound of the oars dipping in the water and perhaps a screeching gull or two swooping overhead. Peace at last, along with the prospect of finding a quiet place on the other side where they could open their wine bottles, unpack their food, sit and talk, and quietly have time to share stories and listen to what Jesus had to say.
Nice plan, wasn’t it? But then as they approach the opposite shore they saw a large crowd and heard the noisy voices of people like those heading into a stadium. You can imagine how those apostles felt. No doubt they were more than annoyed. Their plans were being shattered.
Life is like that, isn’t it? Our best laid plans and our cherished moments are too often stolen from us. Resentment, frustration, and even anger can suddenly erupt on those occasions.
There have been many days in my life as a priest when, at the end of the day, I couldn’t tell you what I did. All of my plans, from the first moments of the day, were interrupted by so many sudden and unexpected demands, most of the time demands from people coming to the door, calling on the phone, or stopping me on my way through the day. Little, if anything, that I planned for the day was accomplished.
The question now confronts us: How do we react when our plans are either interrupted or completely shattered? How do we react when people frustrate our goals? Do we get resentful and make life miserable for those around us? Do we allow our resentments to lash out at those around us? Or do we get sullen and make the lives of those around us miserable, making them feel like we are only enduring them while disregarding their needs?
When you stop and think about it, Jesus took many setbacks and converted them into occasions for good. He took a lawyer’s tricky question and in His response He gave us the wonderful story of the Prodigal Son. On the cross, dying in agony, He asked His Father to forgive those who had nailed Him to that cross. Here, in Mark’s Gospel account, He got out of the boat even though He was weary and needed a break, waded into the crowd, and gave them beautiful lessons and teachings about life. Mark reports: “So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.”
The next thing that happened was that His disciples came to Him, reminded Him that it was a deserted place and asked Him to send the crowd away so they could get something to eat. What did Jesus do? He told them to feed the crowd! Of course they couldn’t so Jesus asked them to find out what food was available. They told Him they had just five barley loaves and two fish, whereupon Jesus had everybody sit down and fed them so much that they ate all they wanted. When it was over, five thousand had been fed and they had twelve baskets of food left over at the end.
I am struck by the stories of some very famous artists and musicians, people who had suffered terrible losses either through physical illnesses or at the hands of others, things that totally interrupted their lives. Some of our finest works of art and music have come from them. They rose to heights of creativity when faced with their shattered plans, hopes, and dreams. I’m sure you can think of some people in your own lives who have responded to life’s terrrible losses not with bitterness and sullen resentfulness but with the same attitude of Jesus when He was faced with His own shattered plans.
Finally we must remember that God’s agenda and our own agenda might not be exactly the same. God, after all, has His plans for us and when they come to bear in our lives we might have to make some adjustments to our plans. Giving God resentment and sullen indifference might not be the best response to make to God. After all, where is it written that we are entitled to live an easier and more problem-free life than Jesus? Where is it written that our plans are never to be changed?
God is a God of surprises just as He is a God who gives us unplanned opportunities to show what we’re made of and respond to Him in patience, in humility, and with love.
We all have plans. At the same time we must remember that God has His, too.