When Life Doesn’t Go The Way You Planned
This weekend, David and I spent time out at the lake with eight of our best friends. Over the course of the weekend, we all took turns sharing our stories. We talked about what we were like as kids and the dumb things we did in college. With shaky voices we shared about the difficult things that happened along the way—loss, heartache, sin. As unique as each of our stories are, every single one of us shared how in one way or another our lives have unfolded in a way we did not anticipate.
Life has not gone the way we planned. In some cases it was because of our own decisions, in other cases it was because terrible things happened (or didn’t happen) to us. But as the ten of us sat around the living room at the lake house, we were reminded of something profound—we serve a God who is in the business of redemption. Regardless of the mess in our stories, we noticed God’s goodness through all of them. We say His forgiveness, His mercy, His provision.
Today, I’m excited to share a guest post by my friend, Rachael Dymski. Rachel’s words affected me. They are a great reminder of how to respond when life doesn’t go the way you planned.
I stare at the pieces, spread out at random across my blue and white checkered tablecloth, absentmindedly turning around in my fingers an orange piece that could be part of a fruit, a flower, or a hat. I stare at the clock. I have been at this for ten minutes and already I am restless.
I’m taking the advice of a professor here in my MFA Creative Writing program. She takes her advice from author M.F. K. Fisher: “When I can’t write, I read. When I can’t read, I bake.” In short, this means that focusing on something else for a while is going to help my writing. I think sitting at the computer is what is going to help my writing.
I grew up learning and teaching myself that the world around me jutted out in singular and straight lines in all directions. I fed myself strong on the mantra that I could do or reach anything and that the world was my oyster. There was a right way and a wrong way to do life, and I was going to put myself in all the right tracks to get myself in the winning train.
Maybe that works for a while for some of us. We take all the right classes in school, get into the right college, meet the man or woman of our dreams, get the dream wedding, get the dream house, and have the 2.5 perfect children while still nailing that dream job. This is what we are conditioned to crave: this is the American ideal.
For most of us though, life begins to unravel somewhere on that path, and suddenly, instead of watching our lives fall perfectly and happily into place, we realize we are watching pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle scattered on the ground in front of us.
This is not what it should be, we think, kneeling down to pick up the pieces. This is not what life should be spent doing. Desperately, we try to put pieces together, and become panicked when we realize college and dream job do not fit together next to each other. Cancer is not supposed to be a piece in our puzzle. Confusion and questioning should not fall into place around the edges.
I started graduate school at twenty-three, at a time when my life was not fitting together at all the way I thought it should. A year earlier, I had married the man of my dreams and moved to a picturesque town in Virginia, the most beautiful state (in my opinion), only to find myself the loneliest and most confused I’d ever been. In a completely new place, I was desperate to find a job: to become a teacher, or a banker, or anything normal, but over and over, I found myself pushed back into the scary and unpredictable world of writing: definitely not an ideal piece in my puzzle.
Before beginning my MFA, I thought rough drafts were a nice way to say mistakes, until you figured out the real thing. I thought that if characters, plots, and ideas did not fall perfectly into place the first time, it was a waste of time.
We tend to think the same way in our own lives, don’t we? If we don’t land the perfect job, or if we can’t jam job and promotion right next to each other, we think our puzzle is wrong. We think we have made a mess of our lives; that we are unfixable.
We don’t know yet, and it may be years before we do, that that piece called anxiety will line up with gratitude to make the most beautiful blue. We don’t know that failure will bridge the gap between college major and entrepreneur, or that breakup is going to give way to understanding.
Just because there are pieces in our puzzles that feel like a failure does not mean that we are a failure. It means that our puzzles will have more depth, color, and texture than we originally thought. It means that our stories are being written by a God who understands better than we do where our pieces need to fall into place. Rough drafts and unexpected pieces are essential to figuring out who we are and what we are created for.
And the end picture will turn out to be more beautiful than any straight line, one-track, American dream ever could be.
Rachael Dymski is a writer and author living in the lovely state of Pennsylvania. When she’s not doing puzzles, she’s working on a new story or blogging on her personal website, www.rachaeldymski.com. Her work has appeared in Relevant Magazine, Humane Pursuits, Gris Ventre Magazine, Students In High Gear, Healthy Leaders, and Patheos.