“Do you have a five-year plan?” she asked. I had heard this question many times before, but something in her tone and furrowed brow made me feel small in this moment.
“I used to have a five-year plan,” I replied, “but when I was diagnosed with lupus, everything slowed down. That’s okay, though, because things are still moving and there’s so much God has done that wouldn’t have been possible if I had tried to stick to the five-year plan. He’s done more in the seemingly slow than I could’ve imagined!”
This was not the answer she was looking for.
Even though we had just met, she had a lot of opinions about how I needed to conduct my life to get “back on track” with my five-year plan. And as I quietly listened to her well-intentioned words, I found myself feeling sad for her. I had told her of the beautiful miracles God had done in the past six years since my diagnosis and the things He is doing in the here and now, but she couldn’t see any of that. All she saw was someone who couldn’t stick to her five-year plan and was a failure because of it.
When did we decide that success is measured by five-year plans?
And where in the Bible does it say that we must have a-five year plan in order to adequately follow Jesus and obey the Great Commission?
When my husband and I were fresh out of Bible college, we moved to DC to be part of a church plant. It did not go well. Mark Batterson—before he was a bestselling author, but after National Community Church started to get a lot of attention—told his administrative assistant, “If anybody from that church planting team want to meet with me, put them on my schedule.”
We took his offer, and he spoke life into our wounded souls. He showed us the ten-year plan—or was it twenty?—for the first church he planted, a church that never got off the ground. And he told us the lessons he learned from that failure and how they impacted the life of the thriving church he now pastors.
About a decade ago, my husband and I were on staff at a church in the Philippines when we both (separately) felt God calling us to move back to Springfield, MO for the purpose of preparing to one day move to Japan. When we came back to the States, we had a five-year plan. It included both me and my husband getting master’s degrees, Japanese language study, and a slew of other things to accomplish before moving overseas again. When we reached the halfway point of our five-year plan, we were right on schedule and feeling quite accomplished. I had earned my master’s and it was my husband’s turn to start grad school. At the halfway point, we were literally halfway done with our ambitious to-do list.
And then a diagnosis changed everything. Our progress slowed down and our timeline went out the window. And eventually, I decided to give up on my five-year plans.
Please don’t misunderstand: I have given up on five-year plans. I have NOT, however, given up on God’s call on my life.
I daily strive to walk in obedience to what God has called me to do in the now and the ways He wants me to prepare for the not yet. I don’t need a five-year plan to do that. In fact, I’ve grown more and accomplished more without a five-year plan and with a chronic illness than I did when I had a five-year plan and healthy body. After all, God’s call on my life isn’t about a certain country, dream, or timeline; it’s about so much more. It’s about a Kingdom.
Our five years have now become ten. There are things that God has done in and through us that we would have missed if we would have tried to force a five-year plan. God has been in the waiting living. He’s not waiting to do “the good stuff” when I get to a certain destination. He’s doing the good stuff now, and I don’t want to miss it because I was too busy obsessing over a timetable.
Five—or ten or twenty—year plans are helpful tools to get us moving in the right direction, but sometimes the right direction means coming to a point where God asks us to lay down our five-year plan and simply obey His voice. Sometimes, that was all the five year plan was meant for—for getting us where God wants us to be.
I still make plans and goals, but I (try to) hold them loosely because I know that God can interrupt my plans with beautiful opportunities, and I don’t want to miss it.
I don’t want to miss Him.