I’ve had my life plan mapped out since I was a kid. I just really like knowing what’s coming next, or at least feeling like I do. But what’s frustrating is that rarely—if ever—does my life plan actually pan out. I think all of us feel that way sometimes. Maybe you didn’t land the job you wanted. Maybe you didn’t get your ring-by-spring moment with all of your friends, or maybe you’re getting your 12th Christmas card in the mail with the adorable baby you don’t have yet. So, where is God when your life plan doesn’t go as planned?
It’s hard to trust that God’s in control when everything in our lives seems out of control. But I take comfort knowing I’m certainly not the first—nor the last—person to feel this way. In fact, no one understood this more than Mary and Joseph, the earthly parents of Jesus.
Here Joseph and Mary were, all excited and planning to get hitched, when all of a sudden, an angel told Mary she’s going to have a baby. And not just any baby, but the baby that would later save the world from our sins. But remember—Mary isn’t married yet. People, including Joseph, would have a pretty hard time believing she got pregnant from the Holy Spirit. Consequences could’ve been pretty dire for Mary if anyone wanted to make an example of her. So, yeah, their life plans got a little shaken up. But they left us some great examples of how to handle changes in our plans.
So, what can we learn from Mary and Joseph when our plans don’t go our way?
- They trusted in God’s plan, even when it wasn’t their plan. Mary could’ve insisted that having a baby wasn’t in her life plan, and even if she were going to do this, couldn’t God wait until she was happily married? But she didn’t. In the middle of her worries, fears, and doubts, she trusted God enough to know that His plan was better. And because she was willing to trust in God’s plan more than her plan, she got to be the mother of Jesus, and she played a huge role in His story on earth. We can all learn a lot from her willingness to trust God, even when it would’ve been easier to follow her own plan.
- They put their trust in God’s truth, not in others’ opinions. Think about Joseph in this situation. It must’ve been really hard to see your fiancée get pregnant and believe that the Holy Spirit gave her the baby. Right? So, originally, Joseph planned to divorce Mary quietly. But then an angel spoke to Joseph, too. So instead of taking the easy, culturally accepted path to leave her, Joseph listened to God’s truth instead of others’ opinions. He stayed with Mary and was the earthly father of Jesus. He didn’t allow the words of others to be more important than the Word of God.
- They trusted God during trials. God’s plan is always higher than our plans, but it’s easier to believe that when things go better than we planned. But Mary and Joseph learned that God’s plan is still good even when it seems bad. Imagine being nine months pregnant, riding a donkey across the country, and getting to your destination only to realize there are no more hotel rooms for you. Perfect, right? Mary and Joseph, after already obeying God’s plan to have baby Jesus, realize there’s no room for them. So, what do they do? They have the baby in a stable and use a manger as a crib. It must’ve felt like God had abandoned them, but the crazy thing is, God was more with them then, than He ever had been. Jesus was also called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” So, in the middle of a dirty stable, in the middle of their doubts, and in the middle of the unplanned chaos, God sent a message in the form of a baby, that He’s with us.
Ultimately, Mary and Joseph’s story shows us that God’s plan is better than ours could ever be. And part of the adventure is getting to trust God through the unknown. I think God knows that if He gave us our whole life plan, we’d either not believe it, try to become our own god, or defy it. Either way, part of the process is learning to trust God.
This Christmas, remember that when things don’t go as planned, God has the most room to work. And may this Christmas remind you that in the midst of our unplanned lives, God is with us in the waiting, working to bring the best plans—better plans than we can ask for or imagine.