What’s next

“What’s next?”

It’s a question were faced with all the time. From parents. Significant others. Casual acquaintances… And most often, from ourselves.

When are you going to have another baby? Is your family complete? Where are your kids going to kindergarten? What do you want to do next in your career? Are you going back to school? How well are you saving for retirement? 

We live in a culture where the expectation is that there is always a Plan B. A second phase. A five-year plan. A direction and a goal you are always working towards. And if not, you feel incomplete. Like you’re living a life not fully examined. 

If you are like me, ‘what’s next’ is the question that keeps you awake at night. The reason that you sing in the shower, to drown out the niggling voice in the back of your head. It’s a question I have agonized over, wrestled with, and prayed through for years. I felt stuck, I felt directionless, and at the heart of things, I felt like a failure because I did not have an answer to this question. I could not see what was around the bend.

But recently, slowly, I have begun to realize that that question itself has a startling lack of faith built into it. We serve a God of daily bread. A God who promises to take care of us. He asks us to cast our cares on Him. Tells us He will feed us, clothe us, and lead us to fullness in Him. The God of scripture isn’t one to respect a five-year plan. In fact, often times He seems to be the God of the hard left turn. Of the startling leap of faith. Of the surprise encounter that changes a life. 

Now, before I go further, if you are a goal oriented person, someone for whom plans and goals come naturally, don’t be offended. I’m not talking to you. God created you that way. Hooray. If you are a person who has a plan because they are feeling called by God into something, go get it. Awesome for you.  I can’t wait to see what God does in your life. But, for the rest of us, those of us who feel vaguely guilty or actively anxious because we can’t figure out what we should be doing next… welcome to my brain. And here’s what I think… 

Does God ever reveal his plan and scripture? Yes. Of course. The entire book paints a picture of the overarching plan for creation. And there are times, prophecies, where God does tell someone how their life will unfold. Yet it seems to me that this revelation is always unexpected. Counter to plans. God seems much more concerned with us finding fullness in Him rather than finding our security in our plans for the future. 

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

Luke 12:16-21

A few weeks ago I was perusing Facebook when I read a quote from Shauna Niequist that stopped me in my tracks. It’s settled in deep. It’s worked it’s way into my brain and my heart, and it’s shouting to me that it is true:

“It’s okay to not know right now. 

That’s sort of the theme of this season for me–letting myself not know the answers to some very important questions. I have a couple questions I need to answer–largely questions about work & time & what to do next & what to carry & what to put down. And I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to KNOW. But I just don’t. I just don’t know….
Here’s what I’m holding onto right now: it’s okay to not know right this second. It’s okay to live–and even live well–in the uncertain in-between…because when it comes down to it, most of our lives are lived in the in-between. ”
This is what I’m holding onto. This is a divine permission that I needed. In my mind, allowing myself to not know is a bigger leap of faith than just making plans and decisions to feel comfortable that things are settled. Do I know where I will be or what I will be doing 12 months from now? Two years, a decade?

 No. 

Do you?

 Let’s face it- not really. 

And, I have decided to declare that okay. In fact, I think it’s a breathtaking act of trust to get out of bed in the morning. None of us know what that day will hold. Yet we do it – every day. We bump around like children walking in the dark and find our way hour by hour. Whether we recognize it or not, we are all receiving gifts of daily bread. Just what we need for the task right in front of us. We can either take that for granted and make provisions for the future, hedge our bets and wall off our hearts… or we can sit back and marvel. Worship a God who always, always shows up- right on time. 

Does this mean we stop planning at all – chuck our day calendars and meal planners out the window and live a life of whatever comes up? No. That’s living a life full of reacting, not acting. But, I think we all could be challenged to unclench our fists just a little bit. To examine our lives and ask what areas we are resting in our own efforts instead of God’s grace. 

What if the next thing isn’t more, but less? What if your plans for the future included letting some things go instead of adding to an already stretched schedule? What if next year’s resolution had more to do with quiet and simplicity and less to do with adding something to your personal bag of tricks?

What would life be like if we asked ourselves each day if we were living a life we want to be living? What if each night we counted blessings to lull ourselves to sleep? I have a feeling our lives would begin to feel more full, more meaningful. I have a feeling we would begin to see the direction of the path we are traveling, and realize that Someone else is navigating. And that this wouldn’t seem like such a bad thing…

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