For those of us with Perfect Plans

DSC_0133The little chalkboard in our kitchen tells me that there are 4 days of school left. 4 days! People are excited around here. Leaping, jumping, hollering kind of excited. And me, too. I think? Because  the end of math worksheets, vocabulary sentences and countries of Africa to remember is in sight!  And no more panicked calls for lunch money or forgotten gym clothes. Yes! Bring on summertime!

Oh, and this year I have decided that summer is going to be perfect. Here’s the plan. The kids will sleep in ( until the sun comes up) and wake up happy every day. They will watch only 30 minutes of TV after which time they will turn the electronics off without ever having to be asked. Then, they will play nice quiet board games and color pictures in silence while I work right next to them. They will clean their own rooms, put away their laundry and do all of their chores without having to be asked once.

We will spend idyllic days frolicking in the southern summer sun and enjoying one another’s company. No one will ever ask for lunch at 9am or argue over rules to a game that makes no sense. They will never fight over who gets to sit in the front seat or push the grocery cart. No one will get injured playing a game involving a skateboard and an umbrella or fall off a bike attempting to jump a fence. It will be amazing and I will never want it to end. It is going to be perfect. This is my mantra. I am certain that it will work for you to, just say it with me: It is going to be perfect. It IS going to be PERFECT.

But in four days, summer will actually start. And just in case this plan doesn’t work out exactly as I have anticipated, here’s what God has been speaking to my heart lately:

Psst… Hey Leigh, that’s a great plan you’ve got. But, remember I’ve watched these actual days of summer play out for you before.

The actual days are loud and hard. They are full of work and words and people.  You like to make the decisions, control the outcome and manage the day. You walk around fairly certain that I, the Lord of heaven and earth, only hang out in quiet, holy places; not in actual days. And Leigh, I wish you could see how wrong you are. I wish you would quit making this so hard.

And maybe for you it isn’t summer. Maybe it is a new responsibility or a different job or a relationship or just your regular ole everyday – the one that plays out so perfectly in your head, but then it happens, and perfect isn’t exactly the word you would use to describe it. Anyone?

I like right things, jobs well done and accomplished feelings. I want to end each day by presenting some good evidence of my work. But, that isn’t how it always goes. And lately this is the verse that God keeps putting in front of me.

Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5.

Abide. I race around packing lunches for one of the last times this year and God won’t let it stop falling over me. Abide. Abide. Only in me will you be fruitful. Only in me.

That’s nice, Lord, I think as I tie someone’s shoe and fill another water bottle. But how does that even work? These actual days play out loud and obvious and require all of me. Doesn’t abiding mean I have to stop and sit in the quiet of a sanctuary? See, there’s real work to be done here.

Abiding doesn’t fit too well into our schedule. Who has time in the middle of an actual day to just abide? I am fairly certain that the natives would get restless and take over this whole operation if I did that.

I read the verse again: “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4)

Wait, hold on. My old English teacher brain takes over. The word that is repeated over and over in that passage – abide —  is a verb, an action word. That means that abiding isn’t a sedentary activity. The word abide actually means ‘to stay in place.’ It is something you do. You don’t quit what you are doing. You abide; like you ‘keep on keeping on.’

In my head,  I have always made this verse mean that we need to stop and sit in a silent prayer in order to be with Jesus (hear me clearly on this: silent quiet prayer is necessary and amazing. It is how God speaks to us – but life isn’t always silent and quiet).

All this time I’ve been thinking that abiding in Jesus was a practice that required me to withdraw from daily life; that it could only be done when everything was in perfect order and I could step away from it all. But wait…

Jesus isn’t saying that when the branch abides it ceases to do the job that it was given to do. It still grows; it still bears fruit. It still chases kids, makes lunches, cranks out reports, builds buildings, and works with difficult people.

We don’t stop working to abide. We just stop working alone.

And I take a deep breath.

No matter what my mantra is, my perfect plans for summer won’t last an hour. And your day; that big project, that test, that lunch meeting, or difficult relationship talk, none of it may play out the way you think it should. But you. You abide. You keep on keeping on. Because you are not alone.

Let me in, God seems to be saying. I don’t want you to run away from the chaos. I don’t want you to cease to do this work. It is work that I have given you to do. I just want you to abide with me. To keep on keeping on — with me. I am the only one who can change your heart and help you see that the fruit you bear doesn’t come from your perfect ability to grow. It comes from me.

“Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

So here’s to summer and all of our perfectly planned days.

May we be branches that cling to our Master and bear his fruit even when  our perfect plans go a little sideways. May we keep on keeping on – with him. All. Summer. Long.

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