The writer of the book of Proverbs says, "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps." (Proverbs 16:9, NIV). Do we live as if this is true? Jennifer Grant stirs up our thinking ... and living.
By Jennifer Grant
One of my friends lived for many years in Dubai and is fluent in Arabic. If you were chatting with him, you'd notice how often he says the word "Inshallah," tagging it on the end of every sentence that has to do with his - or anyone else's - future plans. When he speaks the word, he shrugs. "I'll see you next Thursday," he'll say, and then, shoulders rising, "Inshallah."
Meaning "if God wills it." It's a word many Arabic speakers, whether Muslim, Christian, or otherwise, use. Johnny Cash expressed the same sentiment when he sang: "If the good Lord's willing and the creeks don't rise." One of my brothers, after jotting down his daily to do list, writes the initials "d.v." at the bottom of the page. Short for "Deo Volunte," in Latin it means - yes, you guessed it - "God willing."
I have a confession: In the past, the phrase "God willing" sounded kind of antiquated to me. Maybe it's my personality type, a roll of the genetic dice, or something stemming from my childhood, but I pride myself on being efficient, organized, and rational. "God willing" always seemed hazy ... even weak.
Of course, life is more unruly than even the most meticulously made plans. (Hat tip to the poet Robert Burns who wrote, "the best-laid schemes of mice and men go often askew.") Over the past several years, I've had to work through some sideways personal and professional situations I could never have expected. I recalibrated and white-knuckled through those times, never uttering, "Lord willing," but instead, gritting my teeth, and saying something more like, "I've got this!"
I imagine you see where I'm going here ... that this year, this pandemic year, has sent my well-wrought plans (and yours too, I'm quite sure) careening off the rails. I watched as my daughter's senior year of high school and my son's college graduation morphed into just that many more video events and ceremonies. Conferences, vacations, and even a "Woot! Now we're empty-nesters!" move to a new home were put off. Indefinitely. (The proverbial nest, for the past several months, has been chock-full.)
Since mid-March, I have been slogging and zigzagging through the stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance - defined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. I've landed in a place of acceptance, mostly.
Sometime in early April, I took my 2020 vision board down from the wall, folded it in half, and slipped it into the recycling bin. That afternoon, on my daily walk around the park, I felt a new sense of freedom. I realized that this time had already changed me.
Instead of looking ahead, taking comfort in my future hopes and plans, I felt a sense of surrender. I let my fingers brush over the buds on a tree limb and imagined the leaves on this tree, slowly and almost imperceptibly, beginning to bloom and open in the Spring.
"Sufficient unto the day," Matthew 6:34 reads, "is the evil thereof." I've always loved that verse in the King James Version. What a hauntingly poetic sentence, packed with power, as Jesus gently redirects our focus, guiding us to the present moment and not some imagined, hoped-for future.
It took a pandemic for me to understand and embrace that instruction. Next year, if I make a new vision board, I'll certainly be writing those letters, "d.v." in the corner. And I'll mean it.
Jennifer Grant is the author of several books for adults, including the midlife memoir, When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? She is also an award-winning children's author, and her latest picture book, A Little Blue Bottle, a story about grief, just released. Learn more at jennifergrant.com.