plan C: lessons from holiday traffic

Yesterday I spent much of the day feeling like a spectacularly crappy Christian.

As we inched our way homeward in an endless line of Memorial Day traffic, I silently cursed the following while the sweaty toddler and dirty beagle slept:

  • summer construction
  • idiotic drivers
  • rest stops without changing tables
  • Braxton Hicks
  • the lack of vegetarian fast food options at drive-thrus
  • the lack of additional drivers with me in the car
  • the lack of my husband on the entire weekend

In short, I was a tired, cranky pregnant woman who did not have the day that she had planned.

I did try to pull myself out of my Eeyore-esque mood. I spent two whole minutes trying to think of a list of blessings to be grateful for. Fail. Then I tried to pray the Jesus prayer to get myself out of my own head. Fail. Three minutes later I was brooding on yet another Something That Annoyed Me about the way the day had turned out.

I gave up and gave into the gloom.

When we finally pulled into our driveway, I thought the three of us would explode out of the vehicle. (The dog did.) We were all so sick of the drive that S spent the last 20 minutes yelling “out of car! out of car!” from the backseat as we crawled along. I almost joined in the chorus but I figured I had to be parental and hold it together. Barely.

So as we collectively chilled for the rest of the afternoon in order to regain our sanity, I thought a lot about what had put me in such a rotten mood.

Most of it stemmed from the fact that instead of the ideal Plan A I’d pictured or the fallback Plan B I’d flashed into my mind as a possibility, I ended up with a Plan C that was, simply put, crappy.

Plan C was getting stuck in construction traffic for an extra hour. On an already long trip. With a tired toddler and muddy dog as my only companions.

Plan C was forgetting to pack my ravenous pregnant self a lunch and having to drive around multiple exits in a futile effort to find a drive-thru with something I could eat.

Plan C was finding the temperature at home 25 degrees warmer than when we left the cabin and having to unpack the car by myself in 88 degree humidity while mentally scrapping plans to spend the afternoon relaxing outside.

I didn’t like Plan C. I expected A; perhaps I considered B. But in no way did I want C.

And yet Plan C was what I got. It was the reality facing me. I had a choice to accept it with grace, to embrace it with gusto. But I decided to hang on to Plan A, even grasp desperately for Plan B, and in the process I fell into all the frustration that fighting reality has to offer.

I thought about my work on vocation. And how our research (both from theologians who write on the subject and everyday Christians who’ve explored these questions with us) has revealed over and over again a very simple truth: although many people think vocation is The One Single Plan God Has For My Life And I Better Discover It Or Else Risk Screwing Everything Up, reality shows vocation to be much more dynamic and evolving. God’s call to us changes over time, as we grow from children to adults, as our life circumstances transition, as the world is altered around us.

In so many of the vocation stories I’ve been privileged to hear, from professors and priests to clerks and cleaning ladies, Plan C is often the path people end up taking. They didn’t imagine it; they never would have chosen it. But God’s call to them – through other people, through a need they saw in the world, through hunches and hints – ended up pulling them in a vastly different direction.

In hindsight it became clear that Plan C was the right path after all.

When I look back on my own life, I already see this truth playing out. I crafted many a Plan A along the way and not a few Plan Bs in case things didn’t pan out. But more often than not, the reality was Plan C – and if I embraced the upended expectations, I often found grace.

That boy I started dating just for fun at the end of college turned out to be the perfect spouse. I never expected that. The gamble of waiting on graduate school in French and trying a year of service instead led me to ministry and theology. I never expected that. The painful experience of infertility opened my heart to so many graces I am still discovering. I never expected that.

So if I can now say with confidence that my vocation has been largely composed of Plan Cs, can’t I start to embrace the small Plan Cs in my everyday?

The day’s agenda that gets waylaid, the sick child that throws off the work week, the spouse’s travel that uproots our daily lives, the phone call that changes everything – all of these are Plan C. I never expect them; I do not plan for them. And yet reality presents them to me, time and time again.

Sometimes Plan C stands for crappy. There’s no other way around it. It is challenging and humbling and all together difficult. But sometimes it opens our eyes to a new way we would have missed or an opportunity for growth that changes us for good. The only way to find out is to stop trying to control everything around us in a desperate attempt to keep life at Plan A.

Easier said than done, I know. Learning to roll with Plan C takes a long time, I’ve decided. But my hope, my prayer is that I can learn to trust in the small Plan Cs as I’ve learned to trust in the big ones. To believe that good comes of changes beyond my control. To know that God’s goodness does not fail, even when my expectations fall short.

Now if I could just remind myself of this next time I’m stuck in summer traffic with a screaming chorus of WHEELS ON BUS GO ROUND AN’ ROUND from the backseat…

FYI: If you want a cheesy yet darn catchy country song that says roughly the same thing (but with a worse theology of providence, she says, wearing theologian hat), click here. Or if you want a well-written reflection on roughly the same subject – looking back on one’s life on a milestone birthday and celebrating what has been rather than regretting what has not – click here

7 thoughts on “plan C: lessons from holiday traffic

  1. Every time I read your blog, I want to say “yes! thank you for posting this!”, and today that’s what I’m doing. Yes! Thank you for posting this!

  2. You say so well what’s in my head and heart.

    Since my uncle died I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. That death and the aftermath of greiving was certainly a Plan C. And it sucked. Only grace can get us to the place where we see Plan C as Plan A…where it is blessing rather than curse…where it is joy rather than burden.

    I think it’s easier to make this shift with the bigger things in life. Plan C happens because we lost the job or got the diagnosis or filed for divorce. Plan C seems to be out of our hands with the big things. But when the little things don’t pan out–sitting outside to read, lunch dates with friends, a house that needs cleaning–these seem to be in our control and accepting Plan C is about accepting our own limitations. I, for one, don’t like my limitations.

    Your words, my dear, are balm.

  3. Yours are as well, Lauren. This gave me goosebumps: “Only grace can get us to the place where we see Plan C as Plan A…where it is blessing rather than curse…where it is joy rather than burden.” That road between Plan C and Plan A can be a long and dark and winding one, can’t it?

    And good point about the little plan Cs being challenging to accept because they bring us up against our own limitations. I hate mine, too. But they make me human and they make me me. Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to learn from all the little things that don’t go according to my plan.

  4. This was a great post and I get the sense that you live near me (or in the general vicinity) because one of the people at work was talking about the crazy construction up yonder and yes, it was quite a temperature difference when coming home! So, I can imagine how crazy that car ride was – definitely a Plan C! Thanks for the great reflections. I hope your upcoming weekend is full of joy and blessings and little to no road construction! 😉

  5. Hi Marie,
    I think we must be pretty close to each other – and yes, that traffic was ridiculous! It will be a while before I make that trek to Duluth again! Definitely looking forward to a quiet weekend at home. 🙂

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